Anne Smillie, the longest serving chief executive in British sport, is stepping down from BADMINTONscotland after leading the organisation since 1990.
Having joined what was then the Scottish Badminton Union 10 years earlier as an assistant administrator, stepping up to the roles of executive administrator then chief executive, Smillie has raised BADMINTONscotland’s status, establishing it as one of the most professional and highly respected associations in the sport with its world ranking improved from 29th to 15th, just one place behind England.
That position has been used to help nurture domestic talent, from grassroots level to the elite end with, in particular, the growth of the Scottish Open Championship and its resultant elevation to Grand Prix status providing an environment in which up-and-coming homegrown players have been exposed to world class competition at the earliest opportunity.
Drawing on the experience gained from the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, where Scotland won a gold medal in men’s doubles, she was instrumental in bringing nine major international championships to Scotland, culminating in last year’s triumphant staging of the TOTAL BWF World Championships, which Badminton World Federation officials said had “set the bar so high that it would be unreasonable for the BWF to expect future hosts to reach it”.
They also described the presentation of the arena as the best they had ever seen and the semi-finals and finals were played in front of sell-out crowds, with spectators having before that seen Kirsty Gilmour become the first Scot ever to reach a World Championship singles quarter final.
A readiness to fight Scottish badminton’s corner has inspired great support and loyalty within the sport, to the extent that the full time team of 17 staff members is annually supplemented during the Scottish Open Grand Prix by 300 volunteers who have become affectionately known as ‘Smillie’s people’, their numbers swelling to 500 during European and World Championships.
Smillie’s influence extended beyond badminton as she became a founding member of the UK Sport Major Events steering committee in 2000, serving three years there and she broke ground as the only woman on the BWF executive board when she became its chair of events in 2007 during a six year stint on the BWF Council.
She was subsequently awarded the prestigious Emlyn Jones Award for “Outstanding Service to the Administration of Sport” by the Central Council of Physical Recreation in 2009, the Scottish Sports Association having described her as “one of the most successful Chief Executives in British Sport” when nominating her for that honour.
Another major contribution to the sport was the purchase of BADMINTONscotland’s home at The Cockburn Centre in 1995, which was later renamed The Sir Craig Reedie Centre, and she subsequently oversaw a £250,000 upgrade of that facility in 2013.
Given the emotional investment in such a long and successful period in office, stepping down was clearly a hard decision, but Smillie made it for what she believes to be the long-term good of the sport, offering the opportunity for an injection of fresh energy and ideas.
“I have served BADMINTONscotland to the best of my ability for the past 38 years and have decided that now is the right moment to pass the baton of leadership to a new Chief Executive,” she said.
“Helping put BADMINTONscotland onto the world stage has been a source of great pride, but even more exciting has been witnessing the way Scottish talent has seized the opportunities provided, with appearances in World Championship finals by Imogen Bankier and Robert Blair, who have also been among those who have accrued an impressive haul of Commonwealth Games medals which was added to this year when Kirsty Gilmour became the first Scot to win individual singles medals at two Commonwealth Games.
“Having followed Susan Egelstaff, another of our Commonwealth medallists into the Olympic arena as a singles player, that was the latest of Kirsty’s historic achievements in a career that has also seen her ranked as high as 14th in the world and contest two European Championship finals.
“Our recruitment last year of a world class coach in Tat Meng Wong to head up our excellent coaching team means she and the rest of our talented young squad are working in an environment that gives them the chance to go on to ever more success.
“I look forward to cheering them on from the grandstands.
“However, I feel that I have therefore now achieved and delivered all I can and that a new Chief Executive will be well placed to lead the organisation on the next stage.
“I am proud of the historic journey that BADMINTONscotland has been on over the past nearly three decades under my leadership and I am delighted to retire at a time when it is in its most robust ever health.
“I have been privileged to lead BADMINTONscotland and remain as passionate about our organisation now as I was 38 years ago when I first stepped into the office.
“I have had the pleasure of working with some exceptional individuals during my time here and leave the organisation with some lifelong friendships.
“I am most grateful to our long standing and dedicated Patron, His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex, the hard working and committed staff of BADMINTONscotland and to the loyal army of volunteers who work so tirelessly to support our great sport, for supporting me throughout my time as Chief Executive.
“I wish BADMINTONscotland and my successor all the best for the future.”
Her departure prompted a glowing tribute from the organisation’s chair Ronnie Conway, who compared her with some of the most influential figures of the era in British sport.
“For all of us at BADMINTONscotland , it really is the end of an era, every bit as much the departure of a Ferguson or Wenger,” he said.
“In her 38 years with the organisation, Anne has been instrumental in transforming the game from a church hall and school gym pastime, into a vibrant and exciting spectator sport.
“There are so many major event highlights in her career, but the crowning glory is the 2017 World Championships.
“Beamed to a worldwide TV audience of over 600 million, they brought the world’s best players to the Emirates Glasgow, where they were watched by enthusiastic and sell-out local crowds, with total attendance figures in excess of 30,000.
“They were hailed by the Badminton World Federation as setting the presentation bar so high that it was almost impossible to follow and throughout the frenetic 10 days or so, Anne was an island of calm; ever energetic, upbeat and decisive.
“Determined that there would be a legacy boost, she ran in parallel the Championships ‘Big Hit’ Festival, where BADMINTONscotland gave away 4,000 racquets to children under 12, hoping to introduce and inspire a new generation of young players.
“Away from the big events, her financial acumen and attention to detail have provided the economic foundation which has enabled the sport to flourish.
“She has few if any equals in the sporting community in networking and negotiation skills.
“Under her leadership BADMINTONscotland was able to purchase, own and run the Sir Craig Reedie Cockburn Sports Centre with attached offices, as well as having access to the purpose built National Badminton Academy at Scotstoun.
“Her prudent investment in world-class coaches has meant that our international players have consistently punched well above their weight, with individual and team medals at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships and currently a best ever ranking of five in Europe and 15 in the World.
“She is intensely loyal to her hard-working staff, as they are to her, so it is a sobering moment for those of us who remain.
“We wish her well in her retirement. She leaves the sport in good heart, but as we look for a successor we are acutely aware that these are very big shoes to fill.”