Is badminton in jeopardy of exclusion from the Olympic Games?
Despite concerns about Asia's dominance of the game and the slow development of the sportprofessionally, its governing body remains confident about its long-term survival in the Olympicprogram.
"I think it's just a rumor," Paisan Rangsikitpho, deputy president of the Badminton WorldFederation (BWF), said after the Uber Cup final on Saturday when asked about the possibilityof badminton being dropped by the Olympics.
"It's not true that if one country dominates a sport it will be kicked out. For example, theAmericans used to dominate in basketball. Will the IOC exclude it? No."
Badminton, which was invented in Britain, now thrives in Asian countries including China,Malaysia and Indonesia.
To stay competitive at elite tournaments, some European countries have naturalized retiredplayers from Asian powerhouses.
Since the event's Olympic debut in 1992, Asia has claimed 23 gold medals out of 24 on offer.Only Danish men's single player Poul Larsen crashed the party when he won a gold at the1996 Atlanta Games.
At the biennial Sudirman Cup, the prestigious world mixedteam championship, no Western country has ever touchedthe trophy in the event, which began in 1989.
Meanwhile, players from only four non-Asian countries havewon gold at the BWF World Championships, combining for16 titles, while Asians have won 81.
This year's Thomas and Uber Cup witnessed a furtherEuropean decline as only Denmark made it to the semifinalsof the men's side while the final four in women's field all came from Asia.
The gap between Europe and Asia is likely to become even more pronounced when DanePeter Gade, the only legitimate superstar from Europe, retires after the London Olympics.
Could the end of the Danish fairy tale trigger a major decline in the game's popularity inEurope?
Rangsikitpho doesn't think so.
"We have an evaluation system with the IOC (International Olympic Committee). It rates thepopularity, TV audience and grassroots promotion, everything about the event.
"Combine all these together and badminton ranks around 14th among the 28 sports (in theOlympic program). So we are doing quite well."
Still, Rangsikitpho admitted the BWF is concerned that China's dominance could affect othercountries' enthusiasm to promote the sport.
"Yes, we definitely worry," Rangsikitpho said of China's regular title sweeps at majortournaments.
"We do worry ... we like the games to be won by different countries.
"But the nature of sports is the best team will be the champion. If we try to manipulate it, makingit balanced, then we won't get a true world champion and it might also hurt our event."
According to Rangsikitpho, the BWF issued a new five-year strategic plan (2012-2016) for thesport's global development after its annual general meeting, which was held during the Wuhantournament.
The plan will focus on promoting the sport on a larger scale around the world. The BWF willteam with its 173 members to provide training facilities and lessons to schools in variouscountries, increase prize money and improve TV ratings through more broadcasting andevents.
To spark interest in the game, the BWF even proposed a skirts-only rule for female players,requiring them to wear skirts during elite tournaments like World Championships, Sudirman Cupand the Olympics.
The move was designed to emulate women's tennis but was abandoned last May after it wasdeemed sexist and drew the ire of Muslim players.
Rangsikitpho stressed that the idea was intended to benefit the game.
"I think the reason the recommendation was made was because we want them to dress properly... nice-looking," he said.
"It's good to lift the game's profile. We will not make it a regulation now. We just ask them todress professionally