February

Golden opportunity for Clare

Key calls on marginal shots can change the very feel and momentum of a match. Often, it is the difference between winning and losing.

For every player who gets the headlines on the court, there are half a dozen or so officials diligently making sure the correct calls are made throughout the match.

While quite literally on the periphery of the action, line judges are the underrated figures of badminton, and other sports, yet their very presence is an absolute necessity.

Clare Connor is one such judge who gives up her time for nothing – all for the love of the game. And she is one of the judges who will be keeping the rules and order on the Gold Coast during April’s Commonwealth Games.

Selection for Australia is the cherry on the cake for the 52-year-old who has had her eye on officiating at the Gold Coast games for some time.

“That was my goal when I started my journey six years ago after I did the children’s games and the Commonwealth Games here in Scotland,” she said. “It was my ultimate goal, to do the Gold Coast games. I’m over the moon to be selected.

“I did get selected for the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil, so that was an added bonus – and last year I also went to Gold Coast after being selected for the Sudirman Cup.

“I didn’t expect to go to this year’s Commonwealth Games but when I got the email I didn’t hesitate to accept!”

A key reason for Clare doing what she does, on top of her work as an accountant for the NHS, is the number of volunteers that were on hand to help stage tournaments when she was a young player herself – leaving her wanting to give something back to badminton.

“I played badminton in my youth for years and then coached for a long while,” she said. “Then I started line judging for the children’s games – they were needing volunteers for that.

“And because I’d done a lot of sports when I was younger, there was always a lot of people helping. I always thought I could give a bit back when I was older, so that’s why I got involved.”

Clare admitted the pressure on the judges means they have to be on their A-game for the entire match, meticulously following each shot, always one mistake away from making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

“You have to sit a basic test, be competent enough and know what the rules are in the first place,” explained Clare. “As you go through you have to satisfy European and World federations that you’re tuned to the lines and can sit for long period of time.

“Games can last for more than an hour so you’ve got to be prepared to be there for that length of time without moving and have a good track record, without being overruled.

“Because there’s always a break in play, you get a bit of a reprieve, but when the matches are going on, you have to be able to concentrate – it’s very challenging at times.

“Sometimes with these high-level games, you have got to be on the ball – you cannot take your eye off it for any length of time, because that split second could be the one that you miss.

“And that’s what you’ll be remembered for, not the ones you got, the ones that you miss.

“People think sitting in a seat, how tiring can that be? But it can be very draining on some days – you can be there until three or four in the morning, they’ve gone that late before.”

Concentration levels are already tested to the maximum – and that’s without the possibility of crowd noise, which can prove to be a double-edged sword.

For all the benefits of being part of an amazing atmosphere, Clare says, shouts from badminton fanatics can test your focus as an official.

“The Glasgow crowds [in 2014] were just fantastic, what an amazing atmosphere,” she said. “Sometimes you do get carried away with the atmosphere, but you’ve always got to remember what you are there for.

“You’re there to do a job and if it wasn’t for us, these athletes would not be able to perform at these things because it’s usually only one court that has Hawk-Eye.

“They need us to make sure everything is kept above board.

“Sometimes the crowd can be off-putting! It can get really loud in places but you manage to shut yourself off from it. You just forget about the background noise, concentrate on what you’re doing.”

And does she see Gold Coast as her swansong?

“I didn’t previously look past these Commonwealth Games but if I get to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, that will be phenomenal,” she concluded.

“I don’t think I’ll get to Tokyo, I think I’ve had my quota really! I think it will be somebody else’s turn. But if I got offered it, I wouldn’t say no!”