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Badminton England infested by bungling blazerati brigade

THERE is an increasing body of evidence that sport's old farts believe they are bigger and more important than the games over which they preside, and that the last people worthy of being consulted are competitors.

Jenny Wallwork is the latest leading player to walk away from Badminton England. Picture: Getty Images
Jenny Wallwork is the latest leading player to walk away from Badminton England. Picture: Getty Images

Badminton England, which doubles as the UK body, added further weight this week.

How many funding cuts and defections from their autocratic regime will it take before they acknowledge their programme is flawed? They received £8m to prepare for 2012, yet qualified only three players. The fourth, Scotland's Susan Egelstaff, did so from outside the programme. Hence a 20% reduction in support.

The exodus of leading players from their Milton Keynes performance centre – three of them Scots – speaks volumes. Egelstaff, Robert Blair and Imogen Bankier left in turn, returning to Glasgow. England's Jenny Wallwork this week is the latest to quit. It is hard to overstate how radical this is for a player, given the scale of funding, training and coaching implications. Cutting the cord makes Olympic selection harder, yet Egelstaff defied an ultimatum to move south and competed in London.

Blair won world silver during nine years in which he reached world No.5 in men's doubles and won 54 England caps, yet preferential treatment given to a rival drove him home. He was gagged by UK Sport, but as ever with such edicts, it merely served to substantiate allegations of a bullying culture.

Bankier and Chris Adcock won world silver and European bronze en route to denying 2012 selection to Wallwork and former Olympic silver medallist Nathan Robertson. Yet since then, Bankier has returned after six years down south. "No attempt was made to understand me or my point of view," she said , "and there was no consultation with players at all in drawing up the plan for Rio."

That was echoed this week by Wallwork and, if Badminton England was angered by Wallwork publicly tweeting her retirement, then they will surely be apopleptic after she retweeted a message yesterday which had already gone viral in the badminton community.

"Another talent lost because of your ineptitude at handling people. When will BE [Badminton England] wake up to the realisation that you are the joke in the badminton fraternity?" asks K G Williams, who states he/she is English by birth, Scottish by descent.

"You can steamroller, railroad and dominate young, naive and fresh-faced kids, but you are found out by the more mature individuals and they have the wherewithal to stand up to you and for themselves. Badminton under your auspices has gone backwards. You claim the glory for the successes of the likes of Emms and Robertson, but in reality they made their own success . . . It will all end in tears . . . as eventually a new regime will kick you out as the pointless, chinless, bureaucrats you have become . . . Bow out gracefully, the writing is on the wall for you."

When Blair left in 2010, Adrian Christy, chief executive of Badminton England and head of the GB programme, admitted matters could have been better managed. Robertson said he would not go to the Commonwealth Games if Blair was in the team. Christy capitulated, but later said "a lot of lessons were learned".

Not very well, evidently. Three further players have since quit on his watch.

The "blazered-fart" mentality is not new. Sports officials repeatedly cling to power with Berlusconiesque resilience. It is 40 years since European 400 metres champion David Jenkins told me that Scottish officials "have too much control over athletes' lives". This is no less true across sports today. Indeed, it is worse, because those in power are no longer volunteers, but highly salaried.

The board of almost every Scottish senior football club stands indicted over the years. Ditto the Scottish Football Association and Scottish Rugby Union, quangos such as UK Sport and sportscotland.

Ask any footballer of his generation about the role and stature of Bobby Moore. Yet only this week, 47 years after he captained England to that victory (you know, the one in 1966) and 20 years after his death, did the FA blazerati finally acknowledge he had been shabbily treated by them.

Had the concensus of England players and fans been sought, Moore would assuredly have had the recognition which officialdom denied him. Even Scots still bestow grudging respect.

And it is some 18 years since Will Carling was sacked from the England captaincy for describing the RFU general committee as "57 old farts". Public outrage led to him being reinstated.

Badminton is insufficiently high-profile to generate the column inches accorded England captains, but it is overdue having its UK governance investigated, and its level of public funding justified.

Meantime, Wallwork, who evidently retains international ambition, could do worse than consider a women's doubles pairing with Bankier for the 2016 Olympics. There is currently nobody at Milton Keynes to threaten them. Olympic qualification would be the ultimate demonstration of how ineffectual Britain's badminton set-up has become.

We congratulate Glasgow 2014 on having secured a tax dispensation for Commonwealth Games competitors such as Usain Bolt, who might otherwise stay away. This mirrors the HMRC amnesty from which London 2012 benefited.

The world 100m record-holder Bolt, former record-holder Asafa Powell and US No.1 Tyson Gay were contracted to race at Crystal Palace until Bolt discovered the tax implications would be greater than his appearance fee. He has consistently declined to return. The amnesty removes an excuse for the best avoiding Glasgow.

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