Generational change in Danish badminton requires targeted efforts in relation to the recruitment and development of female players
In two weeks the TOTAL BWF Badminton World Championships 2019 will take place in Switzerland and Denmark have “only” Top 8-seeded players in two categories: Anders Antonsen in men’s singles and Kim Astrup and Anders Skårup in men’s doubles – the lowest number of seedings since the first BWF Badminton World Championships were held in 1977. One of the main reasons for the lack of seedings is that Denmark’s absolute largest medal candidate – Viktor Axelsen – in men’s singles has announced a cancellation due to a back injury. The lack of seedings does not mean that Denmark cannot get players or couples other than Antonsen and Skårup/Astrup through to the quarter finals, but it looks like a very difficult task in advance. The absence of Axelsen means that, in my opinion, the 22-year-old Antonsen must be attributed to the greatest Danish medal chances. Indeed, Antonsen has shown several times in recent months that he can defeat the very best single players in the world. The good performances have also brought Antonsen, who was developed in Aarhus Badminton Club, to rank 9th in the world. On the other hand, it will by no means be a surprise if Denmark returns from the TOTAL BWF World Championship 2019 without medals, which has only happened 3 times earlier – in 1989 (Jakarta), 2007 (Kuala Lumpur) and 2018 (Nanjing) – out of the 24 BWF Badminton World Championships, which have been held so far.
For decades, Denmark has been Europe’s supremely best nation and among the world’s 4-5 best nations in a sport dominated by nations in Asia: China, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea, India, Thailand and Malaysia. Denmark is still Europe’s best nation, but nations such as Japan, China and Indonesia now have far more Top-10 players/couples than Denmark. Likewise, nations such as Taiwan and India have more and better rankings than Denmark on the world rankings (1). One of the main reasons why the distance between the top three nations and Denmark has increased significantly is that Danish players/couples have previously belonged to the world’s Top-10 players in at least 4 of the 5 categories: Men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, ladies’ doubles and mix double. At present, however, there are no Danish Top-10 players/couples in either women’s singles, women’s doubles or mix doubles. It has been particularly painful that the two best women’s and mix doubles players over the past decade: Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl have stopped their international careers. I do not currently see players in women’s doubles or mix doubles, which may come close to Pedersen and Rytter Juhl level over the next 4-5 years. The fact is that the best Danish couple in women’s doubles – Sara Thygesen & Majken Fruergaard – are currently ranked No. 25 on the World Rankings, while there is no Danish couple among the 40 best on the World Ranking in mix double. Due to the lack of international level in women’s doubles and mix doubles, it will also be completely unrealistic with Danish medals in international team championships such as the Surdirman Cup (Mixed national team) and the Uber Cup (Women’s national team) in the near future. On the other hand, the Danish men’s national team has really good chances of achieving a top result when the World Championship for Men’s team (Thomas Cup) is played in Aarhus in May 2020.
While the lack of international qualities in women doubles and mix doubles are particularly obvious, there is much greater optimism in men’s singles and men’s doubles. Denmark’s largest medal candidate for the 2020 Olympics is 25-year-old Viktor Axelsen (No. 6 on the World Rankings), who has already won the World Championship (2017) and Olympic bronze medal (2016) as well as a number of Super Series victories. However, it is very worrying that in recent years Viktor has been forced to pause several international tournaments due to various injuries. And now a discus collapse in his back has also forced him to a World Championship cancellation. Injuries have also been Jan Ø. Jørgensen’s challenge for a number of years. Fortunately, Jan is on his way back with a semifinal result at the Japan Open. The performance shown that he still has the potential for top international results. It can certainly not be ruled out that Jan Ø returns to the Top-10 on the World rankings, if health allows continuity of training and tournaments.
The best Danish men’s doubles – Kim Astrup & Anders Skårup (No. 8 on the World Rankings) – have also shown high international level in recent seasons and the couple can on “a good day” win over the best couples in the world. But from opinion the couple must perform with a higher “bottom level”, especially against opponents who are ranked lower than the talented pair. I am very pleased that 39-year-old Mathias Boe and 31-year-old Mads Conrad have come together in a new constellation, as are 36-year-old Carsten “Nuller” Mogensen and 31-year-old Mads Kolding. Unfortunately, Mads Kolding is beaten with a long-term injury, but both couples have the potential to challenge the world’s best pair in men’s doubles: Gideon and Sukamuljo, Setiawan and Ahsan from Indonesia and Li and Liu from China. Especially, I look forward to following Boe and Conrad, who are both “fighters of God’s grace,” in the coming months, focusing on their earning of points for the Olympic qualification. I think Denmark can qualify for two men’s doubles for the 2020 Olympics, but it will be very difficult especially for the two couples to interfere in the fight for Olympic medals due to the lack of seedings.
Likewise, I believe that Denmark’s two best women’s singles: Line Kjærsfeldt (No. 17 on the World Rankings) and Mia Blichfeldt (No. 12 on the World Rankings) qualify for the 2020 Olympics, but in both players are without medal chances. Neither 25-year-old Kjærsfeldt and 21-year-old Blichfeldt have yet succeeded in achieving international top results and the road to emerge among the best players in the world is still long. I also believe that their international potentials are greater as doubles players than as singles players. However, it is a crucial condition that the individual player is motivated for a career as a double player. Both Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen chose – consciously and advisedly by sports manager and coaches – to bet unilaterally on a career as doubles players. This choice resulted in impressive international results for more than a decade. Kjærsfeldt and Blichfeldt have the opportunity to follow the same road, which I think will be a wise choice.
Danish badminton’s biggest challenge, in my opinion, is the lack of recruitment and development of doubles players, especially among the girls. It is a fact that today there are more than 2,000 girls under the age of 18 who are members of one of Badminton Denmark’s 650 clubs than 10 years ago. Similarly, the number of boys under 18, who are club players, has decreased by more than 2,000 in the same period, ie. a decline of young badminton players in Denmark under the age of 18 by more than 10 percent. In addition, the number of boys under the age of 18 – 22,500 – is significantly higher than the number of girls – 11,800 – in the Danish badminton clubs. The skewed gender distribution in the clubs also means that coaches, managers and parents often have – consciously or unconsciously – a much greater focus on the boys’ wishes and needs than the girls. Badminton Denmark with sports manager Jens Meibom and his coaching staff should therefore, as soon as possible, in close cooperation with the strongest local training environments motivate and prioritize the most talented talent coaches – both professional and human – to train and develop the girls, if necessary “at the expense” of the boys. If Denmark is to challenge the very best nations again and maintain the position as Europe’s strongest badminton, it is essential that the federation and the clubs develop some specific targets, strategies and efforts to recruit and not least develop girls’ interest and motivation for badminton. Otherwise, Denmark will lose further international terrain in one of the most traditional and medal-winning sports – unfortunately.
(1) If the nations are ranked by Top-10 rankings and placement points (10 points to No. 1, 9 points to No. 2, 8 points to No. 3 … and 1 points to No. 10) on the World Ranking is status before the 2019 World Cup the following: 1. Japan: 10 Top-10 Rankings and 78 Placement Points, No. 2 China: 10 Top-10 Rankings and 69 Placement Points, No. 3 Indonesia: 8 Top-10 Rankings and 46 Placement Points, No. 4 Korea: 4 Top-10 Rankings and 15 Placement Points, No. 5 Taiwan: 3 Top-10 Rankings and 19 Placement Points, No. 6 India: 4 Top-10 Rankings and 12 Placement Points, No. 7 Denmark: 3 Top-10 Rankings and 10 Placement Points, No. 8 Thailand: 2 Top-10 Rankings and 12 Ranking Points, No. 9 Malaysia: 1 Top-10 Rankings and 6 Ranking Points, No. 10 Great Britain: 1 Top-10 Ranking and 3 Ranking Points.