Badminton: Baddeley sends feathers flying

Stephen Brenkley finds the sedate world of badminton is in a rare flutter
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The Independent Online
It is a turbulent world seething with hidden passions. Attitude, temperament and tantrums abound. There have been tales of illicit drinking, of soft drinks being thrown and of indolence. And then there is the trouble over the washing-up.

This is, of course, British badminton. For months the hitherto sedate sport, previously marked by nothing much more exciting than the whistle of shuttlecocks through the air, has reverberated to angrier sounds. These have coincided more or less exactly with the arrival of the man charged with the recovery of the game in this country.

"I had two main initial objectives," Steve Baddeley said. "I wanted a clearer structure at the top level of the game, and I wanted to improve players' training to get better results. So far I've been pleased with the response." He delivered the interim judgement without a hint of irony during a squad training session in Milton Keynes last week, though he knows that the feathers his approach has ruffled have not all been on shuttlecocks. Since Baddeley was appointed as director of coaching policy last summer he has instigated a rigorous regime in which fitness and discipline are paramount.

Some have found this hard to accept. To them he is Baddeley the baddie. His first act on assuming office was to establish elite training squads and he has not been slow to banish those who have not adhered to his rules. No squad place usually means no funding for tournaments, vital in a professional sport where pounds 100 prize money is a valued commodity.

Last September, Baddeley inadvertently caught the highly promising 19- year-old Nathan Robertson drinking during a tournament in Scotland. He was consequently prevented from playing in two other tournaments. Earlier this month, Robertson and another player of huge potential, Ian Sullivan were reprimanded and suspended from the training squads because Baddeley felt their commitment was lacking.

Barely a week later, Jo Muggeridge, the best singles badminton player in Britain, ranked 31 in the world, was omitted from the squad for poor fitness. When she objected, a meeting was convened which culminated in her emptying a can of coke over Baddeley. All this seemed barely believable in a sport which has always seemed so cosy. But if the coaching policy director was wet he was also unmoved. While Sullivan's removal may be temporary, both Robertson and Muggeridge will have to convince him that they have changed their ways.

"Part of my job is to try to ensure that all our top players do their utmost in fulfilling potential," said Baddeley. "I don't see the point of having somebody who is capable of being in the world's top 10 but who doesn't get above 25 because they don't train hard enough. I sincerely believe that to be the case with Jo. This is for her own good. Nathan is a different case. He's a character and an individualist. He wants to do the things that 19-year-olds do, but I'm afraid that can't be possible."

If Baddeley, 36, sounds inflexible it is because he is so passionate for Britain to produce players who can compete on world terms. He certainly has the credentials to be listened to. He retired as European singles champion in 1990, he is a proven coach and has degrees in human biology and psychology. The practical is allied to the theoretical. He was heartened last week when the other elite squad members signed an open letter backing him and asking Muggeridge to rethink her attitude.

"It was never going to be simple and it doesn't mean everybody's completely happy. My insistence that they play in our domestic competitions rather than in the German league where they can earn a bit of money isn't universally popular. But it's for the good of the game here."

At least the washing-up trouble appears to have been resolved. The men have agreed to do their share during the Milton Keynes squad sessions in future.