Badminton: Russia set shuttlecock sights high AFP - Tuesday, December 9MOSCOW, Dec 9, 2008 (AFP) - After taking third place in the Beijing Games' medal table, Russia is refocusing its sights onto Olympic sports in which it has not traditionally excelled - and badminton is near the top of the list. With a typically Russian love of planning, badminton's national ruling body has worked out a detailed programme aimed at ensuring Russian badminton players stand on the podium at the 2012 London Games. Sergei Shakhrai, an influential politician who also chairs the national badminton federation, said the game was on the rise but still had a long way to go in Russia before the country joined the world's badminton elite. "In Beijing, we were represented in both men's and women's singles," Shakhrai said. "It's a serious step forward compared to what we had in Athens four years ago." "However, our players' performances at the Olympics, where they all crashed out in the opening round, exposed serious weaknesses in our system of preparations for the Games and other major events." The first step in implementation of the new badminton development plan was to sack the national coach. Russia is currently scouting worldwide for a top badminton manager and may soon make offers to Indonesian trainers. The history of badminton in Russia dates back more than 50 years: The game appeared here for first time as a part of sporting programme affiliated with the 1957 Youth festival in Moscow. Being an excellent spectator sport with simple rules and minimal equipment costs, badminton became a popular recreational outdoor sport quickly after its introduction to Russia. Unlike golf and tennis, badminton was not cast aside by the ruling communist party as a decadent past-time for "rotten capitalists" and in 1960 the first Moscow badminton championship took place in the Russian capital. The competition was a success, attracting huge attention from Moscow's public and press and in 1961 the Soviet Union Badminton Federation was founded. The federation began organising national championships in 1963 but the game remained an outdoor recreational sport in the minds of most Russians even after the national federation joined the world and European badminton ruling bodies. Badminton got a major boost worldwide, including in Russia, after it was admitted as competitive sport in the summer Olympic games. Russian players however failed to attain any notable successes at the international level. Andrei Antropov, deputy chief of the Russian badminton federation and the country's most decorated player, complained that the sport still suffers here from a shortage of training facilities, skilled coaching and young, motivated talents. "From my point of view it's inexplicable," Antropov said. "Badminton is one of the most democratic and easily accessible sports. Yet we have a constant shortage of boys and girls who want to play badminton seriously." But Antropov also stressed that badminton was on the rise in Russia. "We really want to make badminton a mass sport in Russia and to be successful at it," he said. "There are already 40 teams playing in Moscow's student championship and, I hope, their number will grow in the future." Federation chief Shakhrai also said he aimed to boost the appeal of the game in Russia as well as the performances of the country's top players. "We want to attract as many boys and girls to badminton as possible," he said. A key element of the federation's programme for building the sport in Russia, Shakhrai explained, was to boost the federation budget substantially, in part by attracting sponsors and outside private investors. The additional funds will be used to establish a professional badminton league, pull in top international coaches and enhance training and development of the country's rising talents, he said. "We need the skills and experience of the world's best coaches to raise our players' performance," Shakhrai said. "We are set to hire at least two foreign coaches in the near future to work with our national team." "We have longstanding friendly relations with the Indonesian federation and we will likely bring in coaches from that country to work here." "We also hope our players would have chances to play Indonesian stars on the regular basis to rise their performance level." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Copyright © 2008 Yahoo! Southeast Asia Pte Ltd. (Co. Reg. No. 199700735D).