Raised in Tasmania in a Badminton-loving family, Badminton Oceania President Geraldine Brown’s love for the sport she grew up with is intrinsic to her persona. A former player and coach of Australia and later an administrator and president of Badminton Australia, Brown spoke to www.badmintonoceania.org about the future of the sport.
Badminton Oceania: What inspired you to play Badminton?
BROWN: “I love the sport and been involved since I was 12 and I always wanted to give back something. A lot of people use that phrase but it is nice to see young players, coaches and administrators come through. When you see that, you want to do more to help that.
“I’ve watched people in U-17 age group that I coached later going on to the Athens Olympics which was very satisfying. Everyone in my family has played Badminton – my love of the sport is intrinsic.
Badminton Oceania: Explain the importance of the Pacific Island Player Camp
BROWN: “This is vital. In the past the focus has been on Australia and New Zealand and the sport was almost unheard of in the pacific to a competitive international level. Fiji has had a presence at Commonwealth Games but if you look at Tonga where at one point there was little structure, they’ve come a long way with Shuttle Time.
“Leody Vainikolo, President of the Tonga National Badminton Association, has done well with Shuttle Time which is a Badminton World Federation initiative that provides free resources, training and education and now we have players here doing elite training.
“We started in the pacific with a participation programme in schools and people who are good players. The BWF supports that concept and through Oceania we can focus on growing the game. Our objective is to get everyone playing Badminton.
Badminton Oceania: How important are competitive matches for Pacific Island players and teams?
BROWN: “They’re very important. That’s why the Oceania Championships and tournaments we are trying to establish are crucial but before we can roll those out we need players to reach for a certain level.
“Thats why we have to focus on development first. If we sent Australian players, even junior players, into competitive matches with underprepared opponents, it would be unfair to all involved. We can do exhibitions or development opportunities but matches are not an ideal yet in some cases.”
Badminton Oceania: Badminton also has broad, holistic, benefits for its participants?
BROWN: “Absolutely. We’ve been able to access funds via the Australian Government bodies in regards to health to promote our sport as a healthy activity the whole family can play. Badminton has long standing health benefits, undoubtedly.
“You can begin playing Badminton as early as four years old and you can still be playing when you’re old like me, even on to your eighties. You can have a good time and play with men and women, children and families. I used to play women’s doubles with my mother and later on with my daughter.
“Badminton is a family sport that is good for your health. Any age, any gender and you keep fit and healthy and it can last a life time.
Badminton Oceania: How important is it for the Oceania Badminton community to show a unity?
BROWN: “We in Oceania try to be inclusive of everybody and BWF are impressed how we’ve integrated all of our federations in this way. We have coaching and player opportunities.
“We have the Keeping One Step Ahead manager’s workshop and the Pacific Island Players Camp and the coaches are also part of another programme where they can exchange ideas and learn from other coaches.
“The New Zealand coach Peter Jansen is from Denmark, so is the coach of Australia, so it is a process that passes along to each federation, coach, player and administrator, alike.
Badminton Oceania – How important is Women in Badminton for the future of the game?
BROWN: “Women’s involvement in sport generally is vital from the Olympic level down. In Oceania we encourage women’s participation from administration to playing. There is a lack of women in coaching but with the Shuttle Time programme we are seeking to redress that.
“We have equality in board members in almost every country and technical officials and our ratio of men and women is very even. We’re a leading light in this area and if you compare us with other confederations we have a strong board presence of women.
“Providing we have 50 percent participation of women in courses we can also access support through the Women in Badminton programme. Of course, Badminton is not just about women, its about men, too. Our charter says to develop women and men in Badminton. Its about Badminton for everybody.
Badminton Oceania – Is female player retention a Pacific Islands problem only?
BROWN: “Its not only Pacific Islands with that challenge. Women continuing on in Badminton is a problem in Australia and New Zealand, too, when players reach university level we get dropout.
“In Australia and New Zealand we set up a development squad for girls only to keep them in the sport. We started with 20 and in the end were down to four because there were other life choices.
“Education can take on a major importance for females, particularly in the Asian community. Male Badminton doesn’t have the same drop off but we tend to keep more in the sport. Its a challenge we need to work on across all of oceania.
“In the Pacific there are cultural considerations to take into account but what we would like to say is that there are advantages to playing Badminton that can lead to a healthy rounded life.
“The cultural challenge is greater in the pacific and we need to message strongly to people that Badminton is a great opportunity for the whole country, community, to help take away the difficulties they face.
Badminton Oceania: What do you see as the ideal outcome of intiatives like the Pacific Islands Player Camp?
BROWN: “Speaking objectively, wouldn’t it be lovely to see a pacific islands player win a competition against Australia or New Zealand? To see a Pacific Islands individual or team win a title would be good for the sport. Speaking as an Australian, perhaps that wouldn’t be so good in one sense, but it would show the sport is doing well.”
Badminton Oceania: How much progress has been made?
BROWN: “The difference since we started is vast. When we began some participants were not reaching level seven in a beep test but a year later they’ve flown past that point. Its a good benchmark that makes players feel confident and strong that they are making progress. We’re not saying everybody should reach an elite level but it reveals the health benefits of Badminton.
Badminton Oceania: Describe what progress needs to be made technically?
BROWN: “There is a way to go technically although that standard has increased steadily. You can train all you like but unless you play somebody you won’t reach match fitness.
Players need to play good players to reinforce good shots rather than just training. To play good players and then later take on Australia and New Zealand gives Pacific Island players a bar to reach for and what they need to do.
“If we take coaching clinics to them they can only improve. The fitness application was very good.
Badminton Oceania: And how do you see the future of Badminton Oceania and what needs to happen next?
BROWN: “We need everyone to be together as Oceania. Sometimes there’s still an “us and them” attitude on both sides of the pacific. But we’re Oceania, not Australia or New Zealand, then the rest.
“We need to be Oceania and work together, aim high, and achieve the best we possibly can.