Delays and time-wasting in a competition happens in sports like football, hockey and tennis. There are legitimate reasons for players to stop playing, but at other times it’s a strategic ploy to disrupt the flow and tempo of a game. Undue delays can be used as a psychological tactic to break an opponent’s rhythm.
Although there are times when acute injuries require medical assistance (such as Ratchanok Inthanon did at the All England Open 2016), most people describe behaviour which delays the game for purely strategic reasons as “gamesmanship”.
It is easy to see why players may be tempted to delay in the hope of gaining an advantage. They can often benefit from having a rest and refreshments to revive and refocus. Also, losing a series of points in quick succession can be demoralising and hard to reverse. A break may halt the opponent’s attacking momentum and potentially cause a shift in momentum.
As sports philosopher H. L. Reid notes:
These sorts of tactics are sometimes considered part of the game, and a player’s ability to resist them may be counted among her athletic skills.
According to the BWF Rules, a player should not deliberately cause delay in, or suspension of play (rule 16.6) and can only leave during the court during an interval (16.2). How long is an undue delay? The rules don’t say. This is a grey area and often players stop to retie their shoelace, towel down, adjust bandages, etc. In local tournaments, it’s best to be reasonable. Five seconds is a reasonable timeframe to serve or receive once you’re ready in position.
At the international level, the penalty for undue delays is a yellow card or red card which can lead to a pecuniary penalty for the player or their national badminton association. In extreme cases, players have been disqualified for a pattern of offences. However, this rarely happens. Similarly, penalties are rarely imposed at the local tournament level so poor sportsmanship often goes unpunished. In order to win, players may feel the need to use dubious tactics to gain an unfair advantage. Ultimately, the umpire decides if there’s any delay in play (rule 16.4.2). So while players and their parents can protest to the umpire, the umpire’s decision is final.
But it begs the question, can you blame players for acting this way if the rules are rarely enforced? At what point should umpires intervene? Perhaps the most effective solution would be raising awareness about the role and responsibility of players and umpires and enforcing a point-docking system. Given that the umpire can suspend play as necessary (rule 16.3), and issue verbal warnings to players, if players have to forfeit a point after receiving a given number of warnings, that helps eliminate the temptation to waste time.
Playing the game means respecting the rules of the game and the process of playing. A quality competition is largely determined by its competitors. We must recognise our role as participants in this endeavour and confront the gamesmanship dilemma.