Recently there has been much controversy in Sri Lanka over differing opportunities provided to players for Olympic qualification in badminton. Part of the problem appears to be that highly placed decision makers and some sponsors are unaware of the details of qualification which are quite different from familiar sports such as athletics.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) has 175 members but a very few countries are not only highly dominant in standard but they also have a great depth of talent. From the time of entry into the Olympics as a core sport, BWF members have been in agreement that in the interest of developing the sport, besides having the best competing for the medals, it is important to have as many countries represented as possible.
Therefore BWF operates a qualification system which severely restricts the number of players from each country and, in singles, places no barrier on the absolute standard of one player from each country (other than being in the World Ranking List which has about 500 names). In practice this results in about 35–40 countries having a player in each singles event at the Olympics. Over the years Sri Lanka as a country has always been ranked around No.30 in the world so Sri Lanka should be having a player qualifying for the Olympics in the men’s singles and the ladies’ singles. If not, we have done something wrong.
A minimum of 38 players are allocated to each singles event. While there are a few other criteria which have a small effect on numbers, the main criteria determining the number of countries in the singles are:
1. A country can have a second player only if both are within the first 16 in the World Ranking (to have 3 players they must all be within the first 4 in the World Ranking, a condition only China may achieve).
2. Apart from this, a country can have only one player in each singles event.
3. The total number of badminton players permitted by the IOC is 172. If a singles player qualifies in any of the doubles events, the player vacancy created is allocated to the singles event of the same gender.
In the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in badminton there were 41 players from 35 countries in the men’s singles and 47 players from 43 countries in the ladies’ singles.
Selection into the badminton events is based on the BWF World Ranking achieved over a specified period. For the London Olympics 2012 this period is 02 May 2011 up to 29 April 2012.
Since most tournaments have a draw of 32 or 64 players, significant points can be obtained even if a player loses in the first round.
The points obtained from up to 10 tournaments in the specified period are added to give a total which determines the World Ranking of the player. If a player participates in more than 10 tournaments, the best 10 are taken.
All this means that, until the players concerned reach a participation level of 10 tournaments, comparison between players must be made on the basis of World Ranking Points per Appearance. This is very important. Otherwise it can simply become a comparison of the capability to obtain sponsorship for foreign travel.
Now let us apply this to the Sri Lankan situation. Unless otherwise stated, all figures given correspond to February 02, 2012 when the controversies peaked. According to published BWF Ranking figures, our 3 Olympic hopefuls stood as follows:
The last singles player in the world to qualify on merit for the London Olympics at this stage averages 2075 in the men and 1674 in the ladies. Niluka averages 2173 in his best 10 tournaments and is qualified, but how about our ladies?
Thilini has played beyond the minimum 10 tournaments required but is falling short at the moment. Achini has demonstrated she has the potential to qualify quite comfortably provided the next tournaments she plays are chosen wisely.
As can be seen from the first table, an average performance equal to reaching the quarter-finals in a Level 6 tournament is sufficient to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. This was so in Beijing 2008 too.
Niluka has traveled the world playing in as many favourable Level 6 and Level 7 tournaments as possible, sometimes becoming champion and sometimes losing his first match. The ladies must be expected to do the same. Playing in higher level tournaments is only sensible when the player has acquired sufficient total ranking points to enter the main draw. Team events invariably result in adding the prevailing average so they are only useful once a high average has been achieved.
In summary, ensuring that Sri Lanka gets a ladies Olympic berth as it should according to its standard is dependent as much on knowledgeable forward planning by officials as it is on the performance of the players on court.