Ajay Jayaram first victim of obscure BWF rule

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India’s Ajay Jayaram was denied ranking points from the recent Japan Open under a rule enacted last year that treats all incomplete matches between compatriots as undeserving of ranking points.

By Don Hearn.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

At this year’s Japan Open, Ajay Jayaram beat Singapore Open winner Sony Dwi Kuncoro to reach the second round; however, in his match against Srikanth Kidambi, he hurt his left foot and, feeling he could not continue the match, called for the tournament physician.

Ajay was able to resume playing the following week but just a few hours after he beat Indonesia Masters champion Huang Yuxiang to book a spot in the Korea Open quarter-finals, the new Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Rankings were released and the Indian shuttler had been given no points for Japan at all.

It seems that the world #23 shuttler has run afoul of a new rule that treats all unfinished matches between compatriots as suspect and indeed, as grounds for denying any ranking points.

Regulation 4.4 of the World Ranking System Appendix to the BWF General Competition Regulations states:

4.4 In the World Championships or a Level 2 event [Superseries or Superseries Premier], if a player or pair withdraws or retires from a match played against a player or pair from the same member association they will not receive ranking points for that tournament.

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Regulation 4.4 was added to the books following the BWF Council and Annual General Meetings that were held in conjunction with the 2015 Sudirman Cup competition.  This was just a few weeks after Badzine published the results of counting and calculating the rate of walkovers and retirements in the year of qualification for the World Championships in Jakarta, which was when the new rules took effect.

“I didn’t even realise that those points hadn’t been added,” Ajay Jayaram told Badzine this week.

“I don’t understand how, if I get injured, I’m supposed to complete the match. I understand there have been issues regarding a certain country in the past but I think it’s unfair the rest of us have to bear the brunt of it.”

Clearly the implementation of such a rule highlights an age-old quandary in international badminton.  While the concept of match-fixing in sport is most often mentioned in the same breath as gambling, in badminton, a more oft-heard insinuation is that players will choose or are instructed by coaches to lose to a compatriot who can benefit from ranking points or rest before a tough following match.

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The trouble is that all withdrawals and retirements are officially injuries.  It is generally assumed that no player would go to the trouble of entering an international tournament and then suddenly call the tournament referee over and simply declare their lack of interest in continuing a match.

What Regulation 4.4 seems to say is that in the case of a player pleading injury before or during a match with a compatriot, the BWF is going to assume that the injury is not genuine, or at least that the injured player does not deserve to be awarded ranking points for the week in question.

“I wish I had known about this rule before,” said Ajay.  “I might have stood and completed the match.”

A letter posted to the website of the Norwegian Badminton Federation indicates that the BWF notified its Member Associations (MAs) on May 27th last year but Badzine received no press release about it and it is unclear whether they used any other means to inform players or the public.

Jayaram did feel able to compete in the Korea Open, six days after his retirement in Tokyo, but it is impossible now to know whether continuing to play hurt could have put him at risk in subsequent matches.  The Indian veteran admits he can’t say exactly what he would have done:  “I don’t know. It would be a spur of the moment decision.  But at least I’d have the knowledge and decide accordingly.  If it was a quarter-final or a semi-final, I most certainly would have [finished the match].”

Jayaram also pointed out the irony that in a case where a player were to consider faking an injury to engineer a certain outcome, a healthy player would have more options: “This rule doesn’t exactly make sense.  If I wanted to give away a match I could still give it away by completing and not playing my best.  Which is what happens so many of the times.”

Indeed, in the highest profile cases where Korean and Chinese coaches have admitted publicly to conspiring to produce a match result, the matches were both completed.

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Ajay Jayaram may be the first player to be denied ranking points but his is not the first unfinished match against a compatriot since the rule was adopted.  The only other injury interruptions to matches between compatriots occurred in the 2015 Japan Open. In that event, Misaki Matsutomo retired partway through her mixed doubles match against English opponents, then that meant a walkover in her women’s doubles match later that afternoon, when she was scheduled to play against compatriots Matsuo/Naito.

The difference is that in Matsutomo’s case, the BWF awarded her with ranking points for both disciplines.  Of course, when she called the tournament doctor over, she was playing against England and as soon as they called that match off, the withdrawal from the women’s doubles match against her compatriots was automatic but BWF regulations do not contain any clauses that make explicit such an exception to 4.4.  In addition, Natsuki Nidaira still received her 430 points that week even though all 15 rallies she played before she retired were against fellow Japanese shuttler Aya Ohori.

Consequences, regardless of truth

It is perhaps unlikely that the missing 3600 points would have made a difference to Ajay’s prospects for qualifying for the Superseries Finals in Dubai.  Even with those Japan Open points, the Indian would still be more than 10,000 points behind current 8th place shuttler Ng Ka Long.  However, it would have given him a boost of 940 points and put him at #20 in the world – rather than #23 – on last Thursday’s ranking lists.

At present there is no Olympic berth or anything comparable at stake but it is certainly conceivable that denying a player ranking points because they were playing a compatriot at the time of injury could end up causing a bigger problem sooner or later.  That time could be sooner if Ajay Jayaram were to, say, take his first Superseries title this autumn and find himself within striking distance of Dubai.

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