Dutch international badminton player Koen Ridder, elected Badminton World Federation (BWF) Athletes’ Commission chair in 2017, began in his role with an immediate focus on improving language provisions, particularly with regard to communication with non-English speaking athletes. Here, he discusses his involvement with his sport’s Athletes’ Commission and his vision for its future.

  • BWF Athletes’ Commission chair Koen Ridder describes how the commission is preparing athletes for their post-sport careers
  • Improved financial support for all badminton players is a key target, he says
  • Find out how you can participate in the discussion at the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum

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 don’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 my fellow athletes who had their own suggestions, so I decided that something needed to happen.

I was vice-chair of the BWF Athletes’ Commission for two years and became chair in 2017. It’s been a totally new dimension: I have many more responsibilities, a lot more paperwork to file and more emails to deal with.

We want to make sure athletes are developing while they’re still competing professionally

Continuous development for athletes
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.

As a result of our work, that’s now more or less at the level we expect it to be, but we’re aiming to get other things done for athletes, like organising language and post-career programmes. We want to make sure athletes are developing while they’re still competing professionally, instead of starting once they’ve retired.

Our main short-term goal was a first language programme, which began its pilot scheme in December 2018. Regarding long-term goals, we are aiming for a much better understanding of the BWF on post-career programmes, as well as securing better rights for athletes. Last year I was on the Steering Committee for the Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration and was honoured and proud to be part of this historic moment for athletes from all over the world.

Of course, improved financial support for athletes is also on our agenda. Prize money is going up in badminton, but it’s still a case of a small group earning a lot and a much larger group earning far less.

Working with the IOC Athletes’ Commission
We have quarterly meetings with the IOC Athletes’ Commission (AC) to discuss how we can work together, and I think the meetings are 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 International Federations’ (IFs) ACs how they do things and what they have already established. We can also mirror the IOC AC’s aims and try to integrate them into the BWF.

A global network of athletes’ commissions
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.

Athlete representatives from all IFs and National Olympic Committees will be able to share best practices and discuss key issues at the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum, which will take place on 13-15 April.