Badminton: SBA president Leow eyes sustained success after returning unopposed

SBA president Lawrence Leow returned unopposed to lead a team of 16 management committee members. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A historic world championship was delivered under his watch, but Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) president Lawrence Leow knows he and his team cannot rest on their laurels if they want sustained success.

On Saturday (June 25), the 63-year-old businessman was returned unopposed to lead a team of 16 management committee members for another two years. There are seven new faces in his team, with the key positions to be decided later.

Entering his third two-year term, Leow is committed to improving players' competition opportunities, financial support and post-career options to make badminton a viable career.

Speaking after the AGM at the Singapore Swimming Club, he said: "Establishing a player-centric model becomes a priority as we put in place programmes and initiatives to create the platform for our players to train, develop, and excel in their game."

It has been a great year for Singapore badminton. Loh Kean Yew's world title in December was the crown jewel among 10 titles, and there was a first bronze medal from the men's team at the Badminton Asia Team Championships.

Yeo Jia Min also became the first Singaporean to qualify for the prestigious World Tour Finals as one of the eight best-performing women's singles players last year.

The ensuing surge of interest has seen the SBA navigate the Covid-19 pandemic better than most, as its income grew year-on-year by more than 20 per cent to almost $3.6 million, which helped them cover an expenditure of $3.5 million.

The income growth is partly due to more opportunities for fundraising, as well as partnerships with sponsors such as Horlicks which has led to more badminton clinics in schools.

As Singapore made its mark on the badminton world map, others are beginning to take notice. World No. 1 and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen's invite to Loh to train together in Dubai has been well-documented, but in the past week, German players were in town to train with the local players ahead of next week's Malaysia Open.

The national team will also have a preparatory stint in Denmark before the July 28-Aug 8 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Leow said: "We are trying to train differently, where there is more sharing between different countries, and our players can benefit from experiences with different styles in this ever-changing game."

More improvements are in store in the months ahead, as the SBA pushes for more of its shuttlers to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024.

The Singapore Badminton Open will be upgraded from a Super 500 competition - after this year's edition from July 12-17 - to a Super 750 event from 2023 to 2026.

A Super 750 event ranks third in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour, behind only the World Tour Finals and four Super 1000 tournaments. It has a minimum prize purse of US$850,000 (S$1.2 million), more than double the Super 500 event's US$370,000 prize money.

Bigger rewards naturally attract more top players, but this may also reduce the chances of more Singaporean players featuring or progressing deep into the competition.

Loh Kean Yew (left) won the world title and Yeo Jia Min qualified for the prestigious World Tour Finals last year. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO, AFP

But Leow said: "We want to continue attracting the best in the world, not just for the Singapore fans, but also for our athletes... This premium (Super 750) position will make Singapore a must-stop when the BWF World Tour comes to this part of the world.

"Part of our Vision 2025 masterplan is for our shuttlers to be regularly competitive on the world stage. The recent successes of our athletes have also given us the confidence that when we host the world's best, we will not just play good hosts, but we will also be competitive on the big stage."

To groom the next generation of world-beaters, the SBA will ramp up plans to set up Regional Training Centres (RTC) across the island. Managed by Doublestar Sports, the first RTC is already up and running at Evans Road, and other centres will be set up in Hougang, Tampines and Jurong West.

The reopening of the former Singapore Badminton Hall at Guillemard Road is also scheduled for the second half of next year, and Leow hopes the iconic site will be the home of Singapore badminton, where thousands of children can visit to get acquainted with the sport and be inspired by the top athletes who will also train there.

He added: "Our ultimate goal is to create a strong badminton culture in Singapore, supported by a sustainable framework and system that can withstand the test of time and change in personnel, leading to greater achievements and success that will make Singapore a top badminton nation."

SBA management committee: Lawrence Leow (president), Hamid Khan, Ang Leng Seng, Arun Keshav Cavale*, Chan Wei, Chan Wing Kai*, Koh Chin Beng*, Maksim Lai*, Ian Lee, Leong Lijie*, Bryan Long, Ng Yoke Weng, Pek Choon Lee, Kenny Quek, Victor Sim*, Victor Tan*, Wong Shoon Keat

*denotes new members

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