Athletes’ Commission in Focus: Badminton

We speak to recently elected BWF Athletes’ Commission Chair Koen Ridder, who is aiming to improve language provisions and post-career programmes within the sport 

Dutch international badminton player Koen Ridder was recently elected as the new Chair of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Athletes’ Commission, taking over from Yuhan Tan after the Belgian’s four-year term came to an end in May.

Having spent the past two years as Vice-Chair, Ridder has plenty of experience working within the commission. He begins his new role with an immediate focus on improving language provisions, particularly with regard to communication with non-English speaking athletes.

Speaking at the 2017 BWF World Championships in Glasgow (Scotland), the 32-year-old discussed his involvement with his sport’s Athletes’ Commission and his vision for its future…     

Describe your background and experience on the BWF Athletes’ Commission.

I was Vice-Chair of the BWF Athletes’ Commission for two years, but it’s a totally new dimension now that I’m the Chair. I have a lot more responsibilities, a lot more paperwork to file and a lot more emails to deal with.

What does your commission do to support badminton players?

The past couple of years, we’ve been trying to improve the quality of tournaments, from when the athletes arrive until their departure. We’ve tried in particular to make sure they have a smooth journey from wherever they’re staying to the competition venue. Now that’s more or less at the level we expect it to be, we’re aiming to get other things done for athletes, like organising language and post-career programmes – making sure the athletes are developing while they’re still competing professionally, instead of starting once they’ve retired.   

What inspired you to run for Chair, and what is your vision for the commission’s future?

When I was an athlete I always had my eyes open for other things. I was looking into business; I had friends who were a bit older than me and who luckily helped guide me along my career path. If I look around, there are always athletes who didn’t necessarily do that and who are perhaps struggling a little at the moment. I was also prepared to be critical of how tournaments were organised, and whether or not they could be improved. I had a lot of communication with other athletes who had their own suggestions, so I decided that something needed to happen.   

What are the commission’s short and long-term goals?

Our main short-term goal is our first language programme, which will hopefully be approved before this year’s council. Regarding long-term goals, we are aiming for a much better understanding with the BWF on post-career programmes as well as securing better rights for athletes. Of course, improved financial support for athletes is also on the agenda: prize money is going up, but it’s still a case of a small group earning a lot and a much larger group earning far less.

How do you envisage your commission working with the IOC Athletes’ Commission during your term?

We have the quarterly meetings to discuss how we can work together, and I think they’re very productive. The good thing is that we have these meetings with 20 to 25 other Olympic sports. We learn from each other, and we also learn when we are perhaps doing some things quite well compared to other sports, allowing us to help and offer advice to their respective commissions. At the moment, the most valuable thing is learning from other federations how they do things and what they have already established. We can also mirror the IOC Athletes’ Commission’s aims and try to integrate them into the BWF.    

How can an increasingly connected global network of athletes’ commissions from different sports work together to strengthen the voice of the athletes within the Olympic Movement?

Ultimately, athletes are all the same regardless of which sports they practice. It would be fantastic if we could form a common link between all athletes from all sports and share the same message, because all athletes want the same rights and the same reassurance that their federations or the IOC are taking care of them. So it’s best to work together. When it comes to specifics it’s a bit more difficult, because each sport has its own difficulties, but on a broad level, being a strong group of athletes working together would be a major achievement.