Chen Long and sport of badminton come up winners in Dubai

Chen Long, the world badminton champion, added the first BWF Destination Dubai World Superseries Finals title to his collection on Sunday night. And, more importantly for his sport, there were plenty of people there at the Hamdan Sports Centre to see it happen.
Chen Long of China defeated Danish Hans-Kristian Vittinghus to take the men's singles title at the BWF Destination Dubai World Superseries Finals at the Hamdan Sports Complex, in Dubai, on December 21. Ali Haider / EPA
Chen Long of China defeated Danish Hans-Kristian Vittinghus to take the men's singles title at the BWF Destination Dubai World Superseries Finals at the Hamdan Sports Complex, in Dubai, on December 21. Ali Haider / EPA

DUBAI // Chen Long, the world badminton champion, added the first BWF Destination Dubai World Superseries Finals title to his collection on Sunday night.

And, more importantly for his sport, there were plenty of people there at the Hamdan Sports Centre to see it happen.

Badminton claims to be among the five most popular sports in the world. It is estimated there are more than 100 million active players and a fanbase of around 437 million.

The Middle East’s contribution to those statistics might have been thought of as negligible before the first staging of the sport’s season-ending event in Dubai this week.

But the Hamdan complex has rarely experienced a noise like it. The 15,000-seat arena has hosted the likes of Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki for tennis in the recent past, and Chad le Clos and Tom Daley for its main purpose as an aquatics centre.

Rarely has the fare on offer been quite so well received, though.

Despite it being the first day of the working week, around 1,500 people were there for yesterday’s final day of competition.

“Everything has been so well organised in terms of the event, the facilities and where we stay,” Long said after his win over Denmark’s Hans-Kristian Vittinghus in the men’s singles final.

“It shows the potential, and I think this event in Dubai has a really good future.

“With such a large Indian and Chinese population here, this event can really promote our game.

“Giving the residents and young people here a chance to see the game then grow up wanting to play it is really important.”

The finals day was scheduled for a Sunday mainly to satisfy the TV audience in badminton’s heartlands in the Far East.

However, Poul-Erik Hoyer, the president of the Badminton World Federation (BWF), said they would consider revising the schedule so the climax coincides with the UAE weekend in future, given the promising attendance figures.

He said there was in excess of 2,500 spectators on both Friday and Saturday, and he acknowledged the event could be tweaked in future if it guaranteed more supporters attending.

“We know this area is not a known area for badminton, so we had to hope we would get spectators in,” Hoyer said.

“Looking at what we have experienced here, it is fantastic we are at this level.

“We were told not to expect spectators on a Sunday because it is a working day. But all of the lower-level seating is packed.

“Dubai has done excellently in its delivery from what we had hoped. I would say this event has been top class.”

By the terms of the deal between the governing body and the Dubai Sports Council, the BWF season finale is guaranteed to be in this city at least until 2017.

Around 3,000 children have had their first chance to try badminton, via the “Shuttle Time Dubai” grassroots project, and the BWF say they are certain the sport has a future here.

“I am dead sure it is a potential area for badminton because in the summer, when the heat is very high, indoor sports have a growth,” Hoyer said.

“If you are determined to make this grow, and we are, it can happen. We intend to get every child the chance to hold a racquet in their hand.”

Chinese participants were the most successful in the six-year history of the finals that preceded its arrival here in Dubai.

The trend continued this week, with Long the outstanding performer as China took two of the five titles, while Taiwan, South Korea and Japan claimed one apiece.

Vittinghus, the lone European in action on finals day, still regarded his second-place finish behind Long as representative of a good week’s work.

“It is the biggest achievement of my career to date, but I still feel disappointed with my performance,” Vittinghus said after his straight-sets defeat to Long. “I thought I had the gameplan, but I made too many mistakes.”

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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