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Strange rumbles in Asian badminton body

It has been an eventful week for badminton. The president of the Badminton Asia Confederation (BAC) was suddenly ousted through a no-confidence motion on Sunday and the move has led to plenty of speculation on the reasons for the sudden decision.

What explained the BAC’s sudden action, during an ‘extraordinary general meeting’, in cutting short the term of its president Katsuto Momii from Japan? Most independent reports suggested that the upcoming presidential elections for the BWF had something to do with it, even though nobody knew how exactly the two were related. One theory was that Momii was acting against the interests of Asia. BAC general secretary Surasak Songvarakulpan of Thailand told reporters that Momii was not willing to voice support for an Asian candidate for presidency of the world federation.

What was strange, though, was that the BAC announced Momii’s replacement would be Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh, the Malaysian who is currently in the midst of his campaign for the presidency of the Badminton World Federation! The BWF presidency, to be decided on May 18, has three contenders – apart from Salleh, there are Justian Suhandinata of Indonesia and Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen of Denmark. The Dane is currently the favourite.

The move to boot out Momii met with resistance from the Nippon Badminton Association, which has gone to court in Kuala Lumpur. Shigemitsu Imai, secretary general of the Nippon Badminton Association, said procedures weren’t followed by the BAC’s extraordinary general meeting. Imai said rules required a 60-day notice period, while only “about ten days” were given to Momii. “A court in Malaysia will hold a hearing on this case on April 11,’’ he said.

Most publications speculated on the reason behind the sudden dismissal of Momii. Salleh, for his part, appeared to be at unease. The New Straits Times of Malaysia quoted him as saying his campaign for BWF president would continue. “I will not pull out of the BWF elections and will contest the president’s post,” he told NST. “I know that Momii has been removed as the BAC president but I have not received any official letter of invitation from the confederation… Being the BWF president requires extensive travelling compared to BAC but the Asian body is in a mess at the moment. It is also a fact that Asia is split in the BWF elections as Justian (Suhandinata of Indonesia) is also contesting for the top post and this gives an edge to the European challenger Poul Erik Hoyer Larsen. If I accept the position of BAC president, I must uphold the unity of the members of the confederation, meaning that I may have to make a compromise. However, there is no guarantee that Justian can topple Hoyer Larsen in the BWF elections. I have to wait until receiving the official invitation before making a final decision.  I accept the position with BAC, I wouldn’t want to be seen as a greedy person by also contesting in the BWF elections.”

A column in the Malay Mail asked a valid question: if a replacement had to be sought for the BAC presidential post, why not the Malaysian association’s vice-president Al-Amin Haji Abdul Majid, instead of its chief Nadzmi Salleh? After all, Majid is already the BAC’s vice-president, while Salleh does not hold any post in the Asian body. Further, if Salleh was not informed beforehand of his elevation to BAC president, why did the Asian body choose him?

The dramatic developments in the Kuala Lumpur-based Asian body, which came without any forewarning, was reminiscent of the dismissal of BWF President Kang Young Joong in the middle of the World Badminton Championships at KL in August 2007 through a no-confidence motion. The architect of that coup was the powerful Deputy President, Punch Gunalan, who in turn was sent packing unceremoniously during the BWF’s annual general meeting a few months later.

It’s hard to imagine that the recent developments in the BAC were in the best traditions of a democratic body. There is a conspiratorial element to crucial decisions that badminton could do without. After all, the game has only recently come out of the ‘match-throwing’ taint at the Olympics that dogged it for months.

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