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Scotland the only winner in Bankier switch

Glasgow's new Emirates Arena will play host to its first badminton tournament this week and it is something of a test event for the big one: the badminton competition at the Commonwealth Games.

Imogen Bankier is critical of the lack of flexibility in the GB badminton programme. Picture: Martin Shields
Imogen Bankier is critical of the lack of flexibility in the GB badminton programme. Picture: Martin Shields

That is not the biggest story in Scottish badminton right now, though. Instead, that concerns Imogen Bankier, who announced at the end of last month that she was leaving the Great Britain programme. While under its auspices, Bankier won a World Championship silver medal, a European bronze, entered the world's top 10 and achieved Olympic qualification for London 2012 with her English partner Chris Adcock. As a pair, they were undoubtedly GB's pre-eminent medal hope for Rio in 2016. Not any longer.

Bankier's departure from the Milton Keynes-based programme may enhance her chance of a medal at the Commonwealth Games, given she will be funded by Sportscotland and supported by the Institute of Sport, but it has surely extinguished her hopes of winning an Olympic medal or improving on her world silver. Which is why her decision is so surprising.

"I just didn't believe in the programme that was in place leading up to Rio," she said. "I think Chris and I could have won more world medals; if you can win one then why can't you win more? But it's hard enough to do it when you believe in the system. I didn't believe in it so where's the motivation going to come from?"

The deciding factor came when Bankier met with Jens Grill, the GB performance director, to discuss splitting her time between Milton Keynes and Glasgow. Bankier has spent six years in England but, at 25, decided she no longer wanted to do that. "If you're not getting a balance between badminton and life I don't believe that it's conducive to good performances. If you're miserable, you play badly."

Badminton is not, of course, the first sport to implement a centralised training programme. British cycling is based in Manchester and Sir Chris Hoy had to relocate to be part of that programme, so why does Bankier think that she should be any different?

"I totally agree that, for a world-class performance programme, you have to centralise the training. But there is proof that the programme in Manchester produces results. There is no evidence that being full-time at Milton Keynes produces world-class badminton players. I thought that the degree of compliance they were demanding was unreasonable. It was Sunday to Friday or nothing at all. There was no suggestion of any compromise."

Grill appears to be intent on implementing a strict equality policy. No one, no matter who they are or what they've achieved, will receive special treatment. While this is admirable up to a point, it surely falls down when it results in Britain's best female mixed doubles player leaving. "Jens has done a lot of good things but I think that a performance director's primary job is to design the best pathway for each individual to win medals," said Bankier. "I had proved I could win medals but I don't feel he made any effort to understand what I needed."

The end result has surely been beneficial to no one. The programme has lost Bankier and, with her, the most realistic prospect of a medal in 2016, and she has forfeited the opportunity to improve her impressive cv. "I may have lost the chance of another world medal but I've gained the chance of winning a Commonwealth Games medal for Scotland," she said. "I've also gained so much more in terms of my life and my happiness."

The support which Bankier will receive north of the border will match everything that has previously been provided to her in England and she is relishing the opportunity of adding a Commonwealth Games medal to her cabinet. "I didn't perform well in front of a home crowd in London in the summer so to get the chance in Glasgow is fantastic," she said. "If I could win a medal in 2014 it would be the pinnacle of my career."

For Bankier to do so would be no mean feat, but she is galvanised by the challenge. Not only will she be a huge asset to the Scotland team at the Games, but her presence in the daily training sessions at the National Badminton Academy in Glasgow will add an immense amount to a squad which currently has a worrying lack of strength in depth. GB badminton's loss is most certainly Scotland's gain.

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