In the last ten years, the world of international badminton is dominated by one country—not seen thirty years ago: China. With 1.5 billion people, it is safe to say that China can easily pick one kid from every village from his or her earliest age and it will be able to supply the world with tens of thousands of badminton players for years to come.
It is strange, therefore, to watch one of the world’s most prestigious badminton championship—rather, two, actually—Thomas and Uber Cups. Apart from the fact that China was eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the Thomas Cup, the venue was relatively deserted, almost silent. Some jiayou may be heard occasionally, but nothing more.
It wasn’t an appetizing sight.
A few weeks later, however, I noticed an entirely different sight. I entered the most hostile place to watch badminton.
Perhaps “hostile” is a bit harsh. It was (and is) the most electrifying place to watch badminton. It is definitely not the best. Hardly the most comfortable. It is dirty, some dirty water spills everywhere. Some spectators even lay down in the bleachers. At its busiest day, it will be fully packed with people, with all the sweats, smells, and noises. Quite.
This, I should say, is a real cathedral of badminton. People aren’t afraid to shout, to cry. Those noise sticks are banged to make distinct, almost deafening noise. Calling support at will, despising others at will as well. You have to experience it to believe it.
The place that I am talking about here is the Istora Gelora Bung Karno (lit. Bung Karno Sports Palace), the centerpiece of badminton for the world’s most successful nation: Indonesia.
I attended the semifinal round of the Indonesia Open Super Series Premier. The venue was packed with people. This happened only a few days after Indonesia was beaten, harshly, 2-3 in the Thomas Cup. The semifinal wasn’t good either. All the better Indonesian players have been eliminated, save for one youngster by the name of Ihsan Maulana—the fifth and final player at the Thomas Cup final—and he had the distinct, unenviable honor to face Lee Chong Wei, a regular champion of the competition.
The competition wasn’t too exciting as well. With the Summer Olympics in just two months time, the better players save their energy to fight for the biggest stage—after all, a gold Olympic medal is still very prestigious in badminton. From the great couple Zhang Nan-Zhao Yunlei (beaten at this semifinal), Carolina Marin (beaten in the semifinal), the Indonesian pairs such as Greysia Polii-Nitya Krishinda or Praveen Jonatan-Debby Susanto, and even China’s master Lin Dan has been beaten. It left some of the better-known players at that semifinal.
The venue was very noisy, however. Even for the first few games, in which countries such as China, Korea, Denmark, and Spain appeared, the crowd couldn’t find any way to stop shouting and banging the noise sticks. Some of them even shouted Daehan Minguk! (Korea Republik) in support of the crowd favorite Lee Young-date (he once stripped of his shirt, along with passionate, almost fiery shout of the girls in the venue).
Now, you may wonder, why did I call this place ‘hostile’?
Poor Danes. After Denmark beaten Indonesia in the Thomas Cup, here they were in the semifinal of the Indonesian Open. And the Indonesian supporters were not forgiving to that as well. Occasionally, the shouting “Go home, Denmark, go home!” rang around the venue. I was certain that the shout got into the Danish players’ heads—they were beaten by the Korean men’s doubles.
However, for any Indonesian players, they can always rest assure that the Indonesian supporters will always go with them.
I didn’t think anyone expect Ihsan to win that game against Lee. Barring any exceptional circumstances, it would have been a walk in the park for Lee. Ihsan was still less experienced compared to the man like Lee. And we were quite right. Ihsan was rightfully outclassed throughout the game. There were some moments of brilliance, however. Give him a few more years, and he will be quite a player challenging the biggest awards.
You have to hear the supporters calling Ihsan’s name, and the battle cry In-do-ne-sia! throughout the game. The audience were relentless. Even when Ihsan was finally beaten in two straight sets, the audience still clapped for their fallen hero, before eventually most of them exited the venue—all the Indonesians have been eliminated by that point.
It was my second time watching badminton in Istora, and then I know: Istora is a heck of a place to watch badminton. Any Indonesian player should be pumped, and all the opponents may well be shivering listening to the crowd.
If you are curious enough, try to come and watch yourself the next time a major badminton competition is held, and you’ll understand why.