Memories of … the Indonesia Badminton Festival

Here we are. December 8th. Time to say goodbye. It’s been a month of craziness, of unbelievable experiences, and it’s time to leave it behind. I must admit that my heart is heavy as I say goodbye to all my old and new friends on this island, even if I can’t wait to go home to my loved ones. A paradox which I’ve felt all my life…

By Raphael Sachetat, Badzine Chief Editor

Where to start? Maybe 9 months ago, when I saw the name “Bali” attached to the “BWF World Tour Finals” on the official calendar. Too good to be true? China having categorically backed away from hosting any tournament this year, it seemed to be true: three tournaments to be held in one of my favourite places in the world.  So yes, I did use my privilege of being the director of the Badmintonphoto agency to decide that I would send… myself to cover the event.

I felt a bit bad but to be honest. I also know that for most of my staff, it’s difficult to leave home for so long…  and I just couldn’t let it be otherwise. As you probably know by now, I have this special relationship with Indonesia, land of smiles, land of laughter. Indonesians and I share that same spirit of enjoying life to the fullest, of letting things flow, of taking things as lightly as possible, not taking ourselves too seriously, but trying our best to do our jobs seriously. And boy, we were in for an amazing experience… them and me.

Never, in 20 years of badminton coverage – maybe around 300 tournaments even if I don’t keep accounts like my special friend Yves – have I seen anything like what we were treated to in Bali in November. There was the World Junior Championships which have left me with unforgettable moments too – in Yogjakarta a few years back – but this was another step up. The organizers had simply organized a giant bubble in a 5-star resort, on the beach of Nusa Dua, one of the best spots of the island. That meant that everyone in the bubble was about to live together for a month.

I don’t know if you realize what this means in terms of organization. I must here stop for a little while to say how brilliant was the organization team, led by a young and joyful lady, Monika.  She, together with her 40-strong staff from the IBF Hospitality desk, took on everyone’s issues – big or small – with their usual friendliness and smiles – behind their masks. Including dealing with a line judge arriving just as his native South Africa had announced its discovery of the Omicron variant. Needless to say that this has been a challenge amongst others. (For the record, the poor lad had to quarantine in Jakarta for a few days, before finally making it to Bali, but because of the government’s new restrictions over the Omicron variant, had to be flown back to his home country without even being able to watch or officiate in a single match.)

As for the way we were all brought into Bali without having to quarantine in Jakarta – as regular travellers would have to – the organization actually organized a chartered flight to Bali with no contact whatsoever with locals at Jakarta Airport, organizing the immigration process in a VIP lounge of the airport dedicated to the players and staff. Just incredible.

And we soon all arrived in the Nusa Dua Bali Convention Center. That meant we were “stuck” in this “golden prison” for a month with all technical officials, all the staff, cleaners, all employees that would live their daily lives around some of the world’s most famous badminton players – including their home heroes. And on so many occasions – with a lot of respect – I saw some employees sneak out their phones to take a quick picture of “The Minions” or Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu, the newly crowned Olympic champions. And the players were all so kind with everyone. Maybe some were all too happy to be invited in such an amazing place to play badminton, but also relax by the pool, or enjoy a few hours a day on the beach. The first few days were just so great – we were all in the resort with little work or practice as everything was closed during the quarantine. My young colleague Erika, from Tokyo, had accepted my offer to cover the event with me.  She was once again to impress me with the quality of her work throughout these long three weeks and was as astonished as I was to experience a month like that. Little did she know that she’d be living such a crazy event when she first joined Badmintonphoto last year.

So, during these few days prior to the tournament, she and I tried to capture a bit of the everyday spirit but also trying to keep in mind our principle of not intruding into player’s private lives (especially around a swimming pool as you can imagine)  – we at Badmintonphoto are not really the paparazzi type! But the occasion was too good not to capture some great moments – amongst which baby Vega, daughter of the Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen – clearly enjoying her holidays.

It was for me also a perfect occasion to find some time to catch up with old friends – I never have that precious time to have dinner, breakfast or just find a little bit of time to chill with my colleagues from the BWF, or from players or coaches I get to meet for a short while all year long but never really get to interact with apart from through social media because days of competition are just too busy. Or just leave the camera to play a game of Uno or football with the so friendly Thai team, play water volleyball with the French team.  It felt good just to chill out and enjoy myself too.

And then the competition began… In a well decorated Convention Center, the great idea to have line judges wearing the tradition sarong and Bali hats. Of course, something was missing, obviously: the public. Indonesia’s heart and soul. The voices of Istora Senayan were no longer echoing in the stadium for what has become the trademark of the mid-pandemic tournaments that have actually been held. I missed that so very much.

But if they couldn’t be here, the fans quickly made themselves very much missed another way.  No singing and dancing in the stands, but, everyday, in the lobby, dozens of gifts of all kinds were delivered to players: art craft with players names, flowers, luxury bags, clothing, food, even money! And not only for the local heroes, but also for all other players – small nations included! I have never seen anything like it, really. As Erika and I were just so impressed, we made a joke in one of Badmintonphoto’s stories on Instagram and posted a picture of us crying in the middle of all the players’ presents, pretending we were so sad not to get any. We were of course joking, but guess what? The next day, we started receiving some presents as well – food, balloons, special home-made art work with our photos – Erika even got an instant Fujifilm Camera from an unknown fan! And always with such kind words. That tells how much kindness and consideration people have here for the game. What had been a joke became, for Erika and me, a true extra motivation to do well.  We didn’t want to disappoint our fans either :).  Oh, and that was the time when I decided to start my own Instagram account too – I guess this social media is dedicated to photos, so … why not. And of course, being featured in one of the Olympic champion Greysia Polii’s videos, I quickly gained a lot of local followers (and a few stalkers too – Gee, scary 🙂  

The second welcoming party was just one of a kind – food stalls around the swimming pool with a DJ, beautiful set-up, and the icing on the cake, a giant fireworks display on the beach – just for us. And we danced on the sand, barefoot. We laughed, we shared a great and unique moment, in this very secluded world, all ready to deliver what we all know how to do – try to be the best in our own fields. They, with a badminton racquet. We, with our cameras, ready to capture their best shots, their emotions. But that night was all about celebrating the joy of being together. No matter what nations they had come from, all players celebrated as one. It was a beautiful moment, really. And the next day, all players and officials were invited to a unique show, over Uluwatu Temple, on a high cliff with a wonderful view over the ocean and its sunset, to enjoy a traditional kecak dance.

On the courts, photography-wise, those events were tricky. On a plus (big plus) side, the light was phenomenal, allowing us to shoot at very high speed and capture the details – sharp focus on the shuttlecock, or getting the “splash” of the sweat enlightened on the black background. Also, the fact that there was not a huge number of photographers helped also, as we needed to be fast on the right spots in order to deliver the best photos of as many players as we could. I need here to mention the staff and referees – Carsten and Girish, who were really helpful in letting us try new angles – and our friends in the media centre, Deri, Rudy and Steven. As often, the long days of work, the almost constant pressure to deliver well and fast quickly made us tired. The fact that we had to shoot the same players, in the same photo positions in the same hall was another challenge – the hall didn’t allow any angle from up (apart from the tiny commentary positions, where we had to bother our friends Gill Clarke, Morten Frost, Steen Pedersen, Paul Hand and Trevor Harris from time to time to try to catch a bit of height and the famous “Bali sign” behind the players). So it was hard to find a bit of creativity … but we tried our best.

A big boost of emotions came on the third week, when the owner of one of the best resorts in the island had invited a few players and some of the staff – including us, snappers of Badmintonphoto. We felt so privileged to see this quite unique spot – the Rock Bar, Bali. Google it and you’ll find it in the top 10 most iconic bars to chill on the planet. Even if I felt bad that not everyone could be part of this incredible moment, I still let myself enjoy the vibes, the atmosphere.  Quite extra-ordinary. We even allowed ourselves to take some selfies with some players – something we never do on the job, for the mutual respect we share with the competitors. But it was all about immortalizing precious moments with our friends on the tour. And the sunset was just breathtaking, with a DJ playing on this little round platform in the middle of the rocks, by the sea. Once again, the badminton world was giving us experiences never to be forgotten. We can’t thank enough the owners of Rock Bar and their hotel manager – a fellow French-speaking, classy Swiss gentleman. Everything was perfect that night, outside the hotel bubble, but still in our own bubble – precautions were still obvious everywhere to protect everyone. There was no risk as everyone was tested every 2 or 3 days, but still. The protocol was very much in place for everyone’s safety.

As players were getting tired or injured for some, others showed an incredible resilience. With great quality badminton for this third week in a row, this pushed Erika and me to try to match their professionalism.  We continued our best to send good images to our clients and to all media around the globe, thanks to the BWF’s free media hub to help the promotion of the event and compensate for the fact that protocol didn’t allow too many photographers on the field of play. Everyday, we were happy and proud that the product of our work made headlines in some of the world’s most famous newspapers and online magazines. It’s a reward on its own to see our work published by such influential media – even if it meant more pressure as well. Can’t have it all, right? But we were happy we could play our part to promote not only players’ talents, but also highlight the fantastic job done by the local organizers. Badminton Indonesia have set the standard to a place that might never be reached again. PBSI with their amazing thinker Rudy, Monika’s staff, all the hotel staff and management made this experience just amazing for everyone and this Indonesia Badminton Festival will leave a trace in the history of the sport, for sure.

As it was time to say goodbye to everyone, after a month, I had another important mission to fill: deliver the racquets, shoes, and shuttlecocks that players had been incredibly generous to donate, to our new Solibad program together with our partners and everlasting friends from YBK. The IBF Hospitality staff had also made all players aware of this program and hinted that they could leave whatever present they couldn’t take back with them to their 24h opened office at the entrance of the hotel. That led to a huge amount of gifts, food, teddy bears  – including the one Vega Axelsen had played with all week but that she unfortunately couldn’t take home – gathered in big boxes that I could take to the program. And so I did, the day after the tournament had finished, with my partners in crime, Tri, the director of the program, Lea, a Solibad volunteer, and a friendly driver. After all the courtside emotions, we were in for another kind of feelings – the reward for hard work,  like what we put in every day at Solibad, behind our computers, to try to collect money or badminton equipment, in order to bring a little joy to the ones who don’t have as much luck as we do.

We drove for a while, leaving Bali’s gold coast to reach a little village, Tabanan, in the middle of the rice fields – one of the poorest villages of the island, far far away from the tourism industry – I found out that it was actually the birth village of the local hero, the great warrior Ngurah Rai (as well as former badminton star Ketut Istarani).  We brought the food and racquets and goodies to the 15 kids who had gathered, under a light rain, on the badminton court that was built in the middle of nowhere. This is were a program has been taking place for a few months now, with kids who come and play once or twice a week and now, as soon as they get out of school – some everyday, hoping to become a champion and – why not – make a decent living out of badminton. For a few hours we shared laughs, high fives, games on the court. I felt overwhelmed by their capacity to forget all about their daily living conditions and enjoy themselves on court, with their new Solibad uniforms which were distributed for the occasion. Their smiles matched those of the top stars, who, a few days earlier, had donated their old shoes, racquets, shuttlecocks – a special mention here to the Yonex stringing team, Stefani and Gabi, Michelle, Lauren and Marcus, Jimmy and Philip, Iris and Artur, Erika, Freek and Bert a few weeks before, and many others who have donated some of their own equipment. Needless to say how proud the kids were to use the stars’ shoes and racquets.

A big thank you also to all those who wore our Solibad laces to promote our programs – it didn’t go unnoticed: when Hong Kong’s Tse Ying Suet wore one rainbow laces, all her fans wondered what it was all about, and when an article featured her wish to help Solibad, 500 pairs of shoelaces were ordered from Hong Kong – all this dealt with by Ying Suet’s team and management from there. All this felt so good, that the community of badminton comes together to make a difference. It couldn’t end better – and there is more news to come but I’ll leave it here to keep the mystery on the Solibad front – but Indonesian fans should be happy soon 

So, that’s it. Sorry for taking so much of your time, dear reader. It is time to leave behind all the memories, the precious moments that will remain forever in my heart and mind – and on some pictures – and move on. Starting by reuniting with my family, whom I missed very much. With Paris’s coldness but amazing beauty. I’ll leave it up to my colleagues Mikael and Yohan to make their own memories courtside at the World Championships in Huelva. And for the rest of you, as they say in Bahasa Indonesia, Sampai Jumpa Tahun Depan! – See you next yeaaaaaaaar!



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