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British badminton players were written off. Their funding was axed, their numbers were cut, and other sports were deemed more ‘credible’ medal winners.
But since UK Sport’s “devastating” and “shock” decision – just months after Team GB secured a first Olympic badminton medal for 12 years – the country has enjoyed one of its greatest periods of success in the sport.
World bronze for Chris and Gabby Adcock tops off a year in which, despite losing more than 50% of their support staff, British players also won four European medals and secured World Super Series silver.
“It ignited a fire,” Chris Adcock told BBC Sport.
He and Gabby dedicated GB’s first Worlds medal for six years to “the team behind the team”, and namely the former support staff who lost their jobs after UK Sport’s complete funding cut earlier this year.
The Adcocks believe their success proves they deserve financial support, but will it be enough to make UK Sport reconsider its position when it re-evaluates its annual funding investments later in the year?
New UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger will meet representatives from GB Badminton and the 10 other unfunded British Olympic and Paralympic national governing bodies on Wednesday, however direct funding possibilities for these sports will not be discussed at this stage.
Before that meeting, BBC Sport speaks to some of the athletes and officials pushing for badminton’s funding reprieve, and assesses UK Sport’s position.
Why is investment important?
Money does not guarantee medals, but it certainly helps.
British players knew they were under pressure heading into Rio 2016 as the sport had been without an Olympic medal since Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson won silver at Athens 2004, and funding had steadily reduced since Beijing 2008.
But Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis believed they had “saved” their sport by claiming bronze.
“It wasn’t just for ourselves, but for the youngsters coming through – we thought the medal would help secure their futures too,” Ellis told BBC Sport.
Badminton is an expensive sport at the top level – with the majority of the major events taking place in Asia and top players often needing to reach the quarter-finals just to break even.
“It’s so difficult as a youngster starting out because you need to compete in as many events as possible to gain ranking points,” Emms said.
“If your ranking points remain low, then you’re always going to draw one of the top seeds at an event and then you’ve so few chances to progress.”
Developing young talent is certainly something Judy Murray knows a lot about.
Though she is better associated with tennis – given the Grand Slam-winning performances of her sons Andy and Jamie – she was a Scottish university badminton champion and was an ambassador for this year’s World Championships in Glasgow.
“Badminton is an individual sport like tennis and without funding the athletes are responsible for all of their own costs, so you live and die by your success,” she told BBC Sport.
“If you have a player that’s constantly worrying about where the next meal or plane ticket, the next pair of trainers or restring is coming from then you’re not going to get the best performance out of them.”
Referring to 23-year-old compatriot Kirsty Gilmour, who reached the World Championship quarter-finals, Murray added: “I would hate to think that money was the thing that prevented her from reaching her potential.”
What may stop UK Sport investing?
Modern sport is business, and funding is an investment so, as in the financial sector, you would put your money where there is the greatest chance of a return.
UK Sport has previously been accused of ignoring sports which have fewer Olympic medal opportunities than the likes of athletics (47), swimming (34), cycling (18), rowing (14) and judo (14), with badminton only having five events.
But the funding body’s investment in hockey and modern pentathlon – which have only two chances apiece – is a strong counter-argument.
That has not stopped the 11 unfunded national governing bodies uniting to try to convince Grainger to revise the current – and highly successful – ‘no-compromise approach’.
“This isn’t about talking money at this stage, we just want to start having an open dialogue with UK Sport and demonstrate we have the ability to win medals,” Badminton England CEO Adrian Christy told BBC Sport.
Though UK Sport does not currently fund badminton, it has invested nearly £22m in the sport since 2004 and played an important role in bringing the World Championships to Glasgow last week.
It says the decision not to invest in badminton was historic, and that it was the first time it chose not to fund a sport which it does believe has a credible medal chance for Tokyo 2020.
In a statement to BBC Sport, UK Sport said it chose to “prioritise available resources towards those with the strongest medal potential”.
UK Sport’s suggestion that resources are tight is backed up by the fact it required over £30m of government investment to take the Tokyo 2020 pot of £345,279,427 close to the Rio 2016 total of £347,252,192.
That suggests one sport may have to lose out for another to be reinstated.
Badminton would argue world bronze backs up its belief it has medal potential in the Adcocks, who are heading towards their peak years, while the emergence of Gilmour proves there is young talent in the system.
However, Olympic bronze medallists Langridge and Ellis were disappointing in their last-16 elimination in Glasgow, and although European champion Rajiv Ouseph is in career-best form, his age – 31 – does not work in the sport’s favour.
Why should UK Sport invest?
“We’ve got medal winners within our squad – we’ve proven that and shown real resilience this year,” said Chris Adcock.
“We want to achieve more and hopefully UK Sport will recognise that.”
Gilmour agrees the British players are now even more determined to succeed after the initial blow of their funding loss.
“We’ve heard their decision and gone: ‘You know what, we can do this and we’ll show you what we’ve got’,” she told BBC Sport.
Emms, whose 2004 silver with Nathan Robertson, kick-started UK Sport’s investment in badminton, believes the recent success gives the sport’s governing body a much stronger case than after the Rio Olympics.
“We were asked to prove we had genuine medal prospects and we had done that,” she said. “We have a chance.”
Badminton is also the most-played racket sport in the UK – ahead of tennis.
Although not UK Sport’s concern – as they deal with the elite end of the sport – some are worried axing support at the top will impact on participation.
“Without UK Sport investment it’s going to be very difficult,” said Badminton Scotland CEO Anne Smillie.
“You need role models for youngsters to look up to and a pathway so they know it’s possible for themselves to achieve.
“Katherine [Grainger] was an outstanding world-class athlete and I’m sure she’ll do everything she can to ensure players with a future career on the international stage have the necessary funding.”
Grainger was in Glasgow to witness the Adcocks’ success, and the sport has been assured it will be part of UK Sport’s annual review of funding awards towards the end of the year.
Badminton in England and Scotland hope for a reprieve, but they have both taken steps towards becoming more self-sufficient in recent months, and are determined to succeed regardless of the outcome.
“We’ve won a medal and the squad is happy but we all want more,” Chris Adcock told BBC Sport.
“Our funding may have changed but our ambitions haven’t.”
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