By RJ Mitchell
2024 may be just four days old but Badminton Scotland is already gearing up to meet the challenges the New Year will bring.
There is genuine excitement which will soon see the Scottish Women’s Team compete in the European Team Championship finals in Łódź, Poland next month, plus anticipation about the prospects of a tartan tinge to Team GB’s badminton team when the Paris Olympics roll around this summer.
2024 will also see new names mixing with our established international stars as our youngsters continue to transition to the senior game with increasing intent.
Domestically, as momentum increases to green-finger the growth of our sport at all levels, there is much to look forward to with the Scottish Cup set to become the flagship competition within our community nationwide.
Yet there will be challenges, as always, as we negotiate the financial perils and pitfalls that face any sport’s governing body.
Looking forward to all of this, with a smile, Badminton Scotland’s CEO Keith Russell is upbeat about the prospects of 2024: “In 2023 we put some really strong foundations down and we have so many good connections across the country which are feeding in to Badminton Scotland in a much more effective way,” commented Keith.
He continued: “Now the biggest challenge for us going forward in 2024 is how we keep that momentum going and deliver on some of these plans and the exciting ideas which we have.
“In the first quarter of the year we will go out and have more meetings with clubs to make sure they are connected to what we are trying to do and also to hear from them on what their challenges are.
“For instance we are very aware at the moment that there are some real challenges around facility availability and that is also a challenge for the wider sector in respect of: ‘How can we help grow clubs and make sure they are getting access to venues to do the things they want?’
“Also to help clubs and community groups improve the opportunity to develop and improve what they are about and here we are really positive about some of the bigger clubs and their plans for expansion.
“Growth is something that we really struggle with as a sport in Scotland and I am really excited about those clubs wanting to grow, develop and be bigger, all of that is really important.”
Keith is determined that Badminton Scotland’s support will be accessible and readily available to help augment and boost existing competitive domestic frameworks and he shared: “We also want to connect much more effectively into the leagues and competitions that are longstanding and not just tournaments that we organise.
“So, to make sure there is an overall view which will allow the people who play badminton in Scotland to see the breadth and depth of our sport across the country at the moment.
“For instance in formal league competitions we can do a lot of work on that with the clubs as well. “
Warming to his theme Keith revealed that the Scottish Cup will be boosted by increasing profile to cement its status as the pinnacle of the domestic game: “The aim is to make the Scottish Cup a real centrepiece of our sport going forward. 2023 was the first time that we held the finals of the competition and congratulations once again to County BC on their victory and also to the beaten finalist Drongan BC, bronze medallists Western BC and Nairn BC.
“While it was remarkable the competition hadn’t happened before, the quality of the badminton and the enthusiasm of the competitors, who crucially took part from all over Scotland, illustrated just why a successful Scottish Cup is so important to the club game and its communities.
“In this respect we are excited about the 2024 competition and continuing to grow and develop the event.”
Another area of our game which excites our CEO is the emergence of our young talent into the ranks of the senior international squads.
While Lauren Middleton clinched European Team Championship qualification for the ladies team with a gutsy ‘refuse to lose’ display in Azerbaijan, Keith was on hand supporting our Men’s Team in Milton Keynes where they agonisingly just failed to qualify for the finals.
Reflecting on this he said: “Now we also have a number of young players who are really starting to show their potential. Some came into the National Squad midway through the year and now they are really starting to demonstrate the potential for moving on and it is brilliant to see young people getting the opportunity to achieve all of that.
“At the European Men’s Qualifiers the way that Matthew Waring (17 years-old) played in his first game against the Ukrainians was absolutely superb.
“He just lost really closely in three, and played some extraordinary stuff, especially in the second set, and he should take some real confidence going away from that one.
“Looking at the ladies team we have a superb blend of younger players and more experienced athletes and that will serve us well in Poland at the finals – I’m sure.
“We have some really good young players coming through at the performance end and the established players are working really hard to maintain their position on the BWF World Tour and then we have the Olympics coming up in the summer and we pray that maybe Kirsty (Gilmour) will make it and perhaps even Adam (Hall) and Alex (Dunn) will get to Paris as well.
“To have some representation at the Olympics would be huge and then we move on hopefully to the Commonwealth Games in ’26!”
Yet, as Badminton Scotland faces the associated financial challenges of any governing body as we attempt to grow and adopt to greener pastures, Keith outlined his intent to meet these challenges with real positivity.
Badminton Scotland’s CEO said: “Of course it will be another challenging year financially. A lot of sports are struggling as costs go up and we really need to look at how we can offset that and also to mount a membership drive and try and get more people connected with the Badminton Scotland Individual Membership.
“As a sport we need to take responsibility for our own development rather than relying on other people to help us grow, develop, and expand.
“So we need to get greater buy- in and equally we need the sport to take a step up, help us progress, and develop the game.
“Ultimately, we need to develop relationships, grow them, and make them work for the good of badminton in Scotland.
“If we can do that I’m sure we can meet the challenges that lie ahead.”