A Long Tradition in Showcasing the Best of Badminton
When Hangzhou was announced as the host city of the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals(2023-2026) it became part of a journey that can be traced back to Glasgow 69 yearsago.In 1954, the 3,000-seater Kelvin Hall in Glasgow played host to the World Invitation Tournament organised by the Scottish Badminton Union. Held during non-Thomas Cupyears, the event prided itself on showcasing the best badminton talent of the day, selected by invitation. The World Invitation, driven by David Bloomer and later, Craig Reedie, ran until 1974 in Glasgow, and while the event itself might bear little similaritywith the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals of today, it was a trendsetter. A couple of other World Invitation tournaments were held in Asia (Jakarta, 1974 and Kuala Lumpur, 1975), but with the circuit getting more crowded, it got increasingly difficult to host top-level invitation events. The immediate precursor to the current format of the season finale was the World Grand Prix Finals, which invited the top eight players and pairs on the year-end world rankings. Starting in 1983, it went on until 2000. With the launch of the BWF Super Series (later Superseries) in December 2006, the season finale, called the BWF World Superseries Finals, hosted the top eight players and pairs who had accumulated the highest points from the 12 Superseries events throughout the calendar year. A major step up was the hosting of the Finals in Dubai (2014 to 2017), bringing the best badminton players to a city where badminton was in an early developmental stage. The staging of the event was to have long-lasting benefits for the entire region.
Revolutionising the Sport
The Superseries circuit, which ran for a decade, was to pave the way for the BWF WorldTour, with HSBC as the Principal Global Partner. The global banking group would have a corporate presence across BWF’s entire suite of events – title-sponsoring the new HSBC BWF World Tour and the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals as well as becoming Global Development Partner and Premier Sponsor for the BWF Major Championships. Featuring six levels of tournaments (Finals, Super 1000, Super 750, Super 500, Super 300, Super 100), the series initially ran from 2018 to 2021. Guangzhou was to be the spiritual home of the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals for the entire first cycle, given its great enthusiasm for badminton (the city has produced at least eight world champions and two Olympic champions) and HSBC’s focus on the Pearl River Delta. The HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2018 was an event like no other in history. Beginning with a glitzy red-carpet gala for the opening ceremony and player awards, the entire event had a distinct feel to it, with red courts instead of the traditional green. The profile of the event continued to grow with associated activity, with Guangzhou hosting the launch of the AirBadminton Community Project on the sidelines of the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2019. Unfortunately, the relationship with Guangzhou would be short-lived.
The Pandemic Challenge
With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the world in 2020, BWF was forced to have a cluster system of tournaments in Bangkok in early January 2021 to close out the season – with two Thailand Opens and the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2020 – all held in a safety bubble. The success of this innovative approach during a challenging time helped the circuit keep going even through the worst of the pandemic. This was also followed for the 2021 season, with Bali hosting three back-to-back events culminating in the Finals. There were hopes to return to Guangzhou in 2022, but lingering COVID-19 complications in China meant the Finals headed back to Bangkok for one more edition in 2022.
Return to China
2023 saw the rollout of the new 31-event BWF World Tour calendar, and with it, the return of top-level badminton in China. The Finals, too, found a new home, with Hangzhou, host of the 19th Asian Games, winning the rights to host the end-of-season showpiece over the entire four-year cycle. Hangzhou has since sought to push ahead as a sporting city following the successful staging of the Asian Games. BWF, Hangzhou Municipal People’s Government, and Chinese Badminton Association (CBA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in October 2023 to magnify the impact of Hangzhou’s Asian Games experience, to further strengthen the influence of badminton in the city for the foreseeable future. The MoU signed by BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer will see a proactive collaboration between the parties to not only establish Hangzhou as a hotbed of elite international badminton competitions, headlined each year by the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals, but
as a regional hub for promoting and nurturing new badminton talent, utilising the worldclass facilities and infrastructure that stand as a legacy from the Asian Games, paired with the existing technical expertise of the BWF and CBA. For the Hangzhou Municipal People’s Government, this is an opportunity to leverage the prospect of the world’s best players coming to Hangzhou, thereby shaping and fasttracking the growth and development of its own badminton programme. As the clock ticks closer to the opening day, the world keenly awaits the spectacle that will unfold in Hangzhou.