Former badminton doubles partners turn enemies, engage in full-blown fight on court
Fans worldwide were left shocked at what transpired at the Canada Open on Sunday. Two of the world’s finest doubles players engaged in an MMA-style bout that was unprecedented in badminton history. The shameful episode will likely spell the end of their careers for the foreseeable future.
Bodin Issara and Maneepong Jongjit are no run-of-the-mill badminton players. They were among the most exciting combinations in recent years. With their heavily tattooed arms and earrings, they brought in a dash of style to a dour circuit. Their playing styles too complemented their appearance – a highly charged, fist-pumping brand of badminton saw them rise to a high of world No.7. The Bitburger Open 2011 and India Open 2012 titles marked them as the team to watch during the London Olympics.
At the Olympics, however, they didn’t quite play to potential, and appeared deflated through their short campaign, eventually falling in the quarterfinals. Although they did have more promising campaigns through the year – they did well to reach the French Open final last year, falling in a close final – the combination developed fissures towards the end of 2012. The BWF Superseries Finals was their last campaign together.
Issara, the left-hander, teamed up with Pakkawat Vilailak, and Jongjit decided to partner Nipitphon Puangpuapech. Both pairs might have spent the rest of their careers as top-ten or top-20 combinations, but Sunday changed everything.
The incident itself was preceded by frequent verbal jousting between Issara and Jongjit. At one point, the chair umpire is seen warning both of them. The flare-up happened during the change of ends after Jongjit and Nipitphon won the first game 21-12.
Jongjit appeared to have said something that triggered a wild reaction from Issara – the muscular left-hander charged towards his former partner, who ran backwards and even tried to stall him with his racket. But Issara charged forward in uncontrolled rage, and proceed to hurl a plastic chair at the petrified Jongjit, who ran around the court. Issara eventually caught up with Jongjit, wrestled him down to the floor, and rained blows on him before the two were separated.
Jongjit rose shirtless, while Issara’s right ear was split from the blow from Jongjit’s racket. Issara and Vilailak were given a black card, disqualifying them from the final, and the match was awarded to Jongjit and Niphitphon. The Badminton World Federation reacted swiftly, announcing an investigation. The video went viral and provoked shock in the badminton world.
It is unlikely that such an incident has ever happened in the over hundred-year history of badminton. The worst that has happened thus far was in the Korea Open final a few years ago, when Lin Dan charged at Korean coach Li Mao, but neither was hurt.
Predictably, Issara and Jongjit blamed the other for inciting trouble. Issara appeared on Thailand’s Channel 3 with his right ear bandaged and apologised for the incident. “I apologise to all Thai people for bringing disgrace on the country. I take all the blame and I would like this issue to end here,” he said.
Badminton Association of Thailand president and Hall of Famer Charoen Wattanasin said the fight was the most embarrassing incident in Thailand’s badminton history. He described the incident as the worst in his decades-long career as a player and official.
“I have been in badminton for 58 years and never seen anything like this. It is very bad and causes damage to our reputation,” said Wattanasin. “I’m worried the BWF may take action and the players could face a life ban.”
Former Olympian and commentator Anna Rice called for a “no tolerance policy”. “They (BWF) should review the video and decide whether there should be a ban for a certain amount of time or potentially a lifetime ban. I don’t think we can allow for any kind of violence like this in our sport and it should be a no tolerance policy if you ask me.”
Whatever be the outcome, it looks like a sad ending to what was once a promising combination. Thailand has been producing top-class players, particularly in women’s singles, and their players are known for being polite and courteous.
Issara and Jongjit are rude reminders that a gentlemanly sport can be brought into disrepute at any moment. Issara’s violence was triggered by Jongjit’s verbal volleys; organisers must thus stamp out ‘sledging’ at the very first instance, before it descends into violence.