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Vice President kicked out of Badminton World Federation

26 May 2008

Long term internal wrangling and tension inside the Badminton World Federation and its administration has for the time being come to an end. The now former vice president, Datuk Punch Gunalan of Malaysia, has been ousted from the federation after a vote of no confidence. Badminton leaders are optimistic that transparency and democracy will now find their way in the federation.

On the sidelines of the Thomas and Uber Cup team championships in Jakarta, the annual general meeting in Badminton World Federation (BWF) took place on Saturday 17 May, and dealt a deathblow to Punch Gunalan's more than two-decade reign with BWF.

Delegates at the meeting backed a no confidence motion against Gunalan, who is alleged to have been behind an attempted coup d’etat at the BWF.

Gunalan was reportedly not at the meeting, after having resigned as BWF Chief Operating Officer the day beforehand. It is believed he suddenly flew back to Kuala Lumpur for fear of being questioned by Indonesian authorities. Two of Gunalan’s staunchest supporters in the Executive Committee, Robin Bryant and Eraj Wijesinghe, have followed his example and have left Jakarta.

The crisis in the BWF has been brewing for some years and the disagreement and internal political struggle have many roots. The background for the current crisis includes the following major incidents:

  • Relocation of BWF headquarters: When the BWF relocated from Cheltenham, England, to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in 2005, questions were raised over the legitimacy of the bidding process for determining the future location of the BWF. Gunalan was alleged to have leaked information on other bidders through a letter to the Badminton Association of Malaysia.
  • Suspension of Ganga Rao: In June 2007 came the surprise suspension of the BWF Chief Operating Officer, Ganga Rao, who in 2006 was handpicked by Gunalan to be the General Manager of the Federation in order to further strengthen the federation’s administration. The appointment positioned Ganga as the head of the BWF secretariat in Kuala Lumpur. The reason for Ganga’s suspension remains unclear, although there are reports that it concerned an alleged conflict of interest. After this suspension, Gunalan took over full control of the administration in BWF.
  • Gunalan leads coup d’etat: Just a few weeks after Rao’s suspension, Gunalan led a coup d'etat against incumbent president Kang Young Joong from South Korea. One of the counts of indictment was Young Joong’s role in the World Badminton Foundation, which he established in 2007 and which is not under the jurisdiction of BWF. It is said that the BWF Council was concerned that the foundation was competing with the international federation and that it was circulating documents critical of the BWF Council and individual officers.

Another count of indictment was in response to allegations made by Young Joong of a lack of transparency, poor governance and draconian rule inside the international federation. According to Young Joong, “the BWF had spiralled downwards through a dictatorship by democracy,” and that such a serious rift in the sport’s governing body could even jeopardize its Olympic status after 2012 reported the China Daily in August 2007. 

About the BWF
Founded in 1934, the Badminton World Federation is the world governing body for the sport with 151 National Member Associations.


The BWF has five Continental Confederations, which correspond to the Olympic continental structure:

  • Oceania Badminton Confederation
  • Africa Badminton Federation
  • Asia Badminton Confederation
  • European Badminton Union
  • Pan-American Badminton Confederation


Gunalan's plans for a coup d'etat failed
Gunalan has for many years worked on getting rid of the BWF President, Kang Young Joong, but so far, he has not been able to get the necessary support.

After the suspension of Ganga Rao in June 2007, Punch Gunalan was advised by Malaysia’s Sports Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said to quit the federation in the wake of an internal crisis, that would threaten Malaysia’s reputation and could throw the sports future in doubt.

Azalina was instructed personally by Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to resolve the crisis. However, Punch Gunalan remained at the helm, not willing to withdraw at all. The internal political struggle in BWF escalated when Gunalan realised that President Young Joong could not be manipulated.

Bungling with memberships
Decisive for the balance of power in the Badminton World Federation is the number of members, which is closely connected with the number of votes. And Gunalan is suspected of bungling with memberships in his own favour. This could be of vital importance regarding a possible vote of no confidence in the incumbent President. And a vote of no confidence against Kang Young Joong was exactly what Punch Gunalan had hoped for.

However, his plans were revealed and he ended as the one that had to leave. The annual general meeting last week decided with a large majority, 142 members voting in favour and 38 against, to put a vote of no confidence against Gunalan, a decision that only the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) can reverse.

Internal chaos harming players
The internal chaos within the BWF has not been restricted to boardroom battles and political posturing. Badminton players remain unpaid for matches they have already participated in as part of the Super Series tournament.

The finals of the Super Series should have started in December 2007, but never got going because the main sponsors of the tournament withdraw their support - allegedly because of the troubles within the BWF. This lack of international sponsorship has a great influence on the 11 countries that host the tournament, as they will no longer get the guaranteed advertising contribution of USD 100,000.

The BWF have suggested that the national federations should find their own sponsors, but are at the same time working hard on finding a new head sponsor.

New winds will blow
However, after the dramatic annual general meeting last week, Peter Jensen, President of the Danish Badminton Federation (DBF), is optimistic over the future of the federation.

“Regarding the new situation with change in the power balance of BWF, the prospects for the future are very positive,” Jensen tells Play the Game.

According to Jensen there is widespread support for the incumbent BWF President and confidence in his intentions of creating a more democratic, open and transparent federation.

Only time will tell how the BWF Council will work in the future leading up to the next election in 2009, but there is no doubt that the faction that supported Gunalan has had its wings clipped.


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