By RJ Mitchell
Badminton Scotland CEO Keith Russell has no doubt that 2023 has been a hugely positive year for the sport and our communities.
In the first of a two part interview, Keith has taken time out to reflect on 2023 and in a second follow-up, he will preview what’s coming for the new year.
The performance field produced plenty of moments of compulsory viewing on the highlights reel, like the Women’s Team’s emphatic unbeaten qualification for February’s European Team Championships in Poland, medal successes in the European Games and the emergence of our next gen of international class talent.
The return of the Scottish Open also restored an invaluable focal point for our sport to come together – players, coaches, officials, volunteers, community partners, spectators, and many more.
Keith was keen to emphasise the increased connectivity Badminton Scotland has built with its core communities as the first stop on his review of 2023.
“The real highlight for me has been a much greater connection with the sport. We’ve been working really hard to promote what is happening out there – what our clubs are doing as well as where you can play recreational and social badminton.
“We have a lot of firsts in terms of how we are bonding and connecting with groups who haven’t been involved with our sport previously and they are recognising the value that Badminton Scotland can bring in how we can help and provide support.
“Regional Development Officer for Tayside, Fife and Central, Jane Russell began a blossoming partnership with Amina (The Muslim Women’s Resource Centre MWRC) in Dundee earlier this year. There was immediate interest from Amina for learning, coaching and playing. Jane has been delivering our Badminton Basics course and The Menzieshill Community Hub now runs a weekly badminton session for women from the BME community. Badminton Scotland in partnership with Amina is running a badminton ladder competition for BME women in Dundee in May 2024”.
“We’ve seen many other groups becoming clubs and joining Badminton Scotland and we are now able to promote what they do on our website and social media channels to grow the number of participants at sessions and increase visibility.
“Sharing stories and promoting badminton activity across the country allows us to broaden the reach of our sport and really connect into the grassroots in a more effective way than we have done previously.
“So for me this greater connectivity with our communities is the type of primary principle we have developed strongly and are continuing to progress and it’s been fantastic.”
The return of the Scottish Open in October, featured 252 players from 36 nations, at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena and perhaps produced the year’s headlining moment. As Keith took time to reflect on the action-packed weekend, he emphasises the importance of the off court activity which was a huge part of the hugely successful event.
He said: “The great thing about the Scottish Open is that it isn’t just a player event, although it is still recognised as one of the leading events by Badminton Europe, it is also a fantastic focal point for so many varying activities and people to come together who didn’t know each other before.
“For instance we have 250 volunteers who are part of it, while Prince Edward, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh visited this year, and the Scottish Open ultimately connects everything we are doing.
“In terms of grassroots badminton we had Bute Badminton Club involved in the learning, development and fun activities. Bute BC are currently coached by Sarah Sidebottom, Scottish elite squad player so it was an opportunity for them to have a hit and of course there was plenty of noise in the Emirates when they cheered Sarah on in the Mixed Doubles.
“Sarah’s mum spoke with the Duke of Edinburgh and explained to him that this was the route Sarah had taken from her earliest involvement with badminton all the way to the national squad. It really felt like a full circle moment which is great to be a part of!
“So, the Scottish Open is the showcase of all the good things we do and not just a competitive badminton tournament. It brings together positives and gives us the platform to recognise the work of players, coaches, technical officials, volunteers, partners, staff and many more.
From a personal perspective Keith added: “what I love about the Scottish Open is that I have four days where I can speak face-to-face with people and really I could spend a whole year trying to do the same thing!”
While 2023, from an elite performance perspective, didn’t provide the intensity of focus that a Commonwealth Games or Olympic year produces, there were still some notable highlights for Keith and he shared: “What we did have in 2023 were the European Games, where we had medals for Kirsty (Gilmour) in the Women’s Singles and then Adam (Hall) and Alex (Dunn) in the Men’s Doubles, and that demonstrated the progress they are making.
“We also had Matthew and Christopher (Grimley) winning the Irish Open followed by the Welsh. To back up the first title with a second in less than three weeks was really important to them as they have been working incredibly hard on their game this year.
“On the other side of that success, our Women’s team out in Azerbaijan qualifying for the 2024 European Women’s Team Championships was a fantastic achievement.
“It was a tough shift going out there but to produce the level of performance they did and not even drop a single match over their two qualifying ties was an immense effort, really it was absolutely brilliant.
“Turning to the HSBC BWF World Tour events, these are a real challenge for our players but more and more they are getting used to the rigours of playing these events which is great.”
As Badminton Scotland has continued to grow our sport at all levels, our ability to do so has been boosted by additional staff and practically speaking Keith had no doubt about the benefits of this.
He explained: “We have added several new staff members to the team and they’ve made a massive difference, they’ve brought a lot of energy and new ideas, and it almost feels like that coming out of Covid we are finally expanding and doing what we wanted to do before the pandemic.
“The big difference is that we now have people on the ground who can really expand things. For example, recently we did a lot of good work with an organisation called ‘One Community Scotland,’ where we make contacts through our work with Kabaddi Scotland and others, and they are a group of young people who are now playing badminton with us.
“In this respect is great is that we had a member of staff who could follow up and develop this initiatives where in the past there hasn’t been the personnel to take everything on.
“Then up in Oban they have a new doubles competition and a club. On the back of that we now have a greater connection to players over in Islay who are doing some really good work and we have pretty much every school in Dumfries and Galloway affiliated to Badminton Scotland.
“That is all because we have people on the ground who can follow through on projects in these new areas, where previously we did not, and that is just fantastic for our sport and very exciting.”
In part two of our interview with Keith, Badminton Scotland CEO, he will look forward to 2024 while also revealing some of the challenges ahead as we continue to do everything we can to help make our sport flourish.