Not skirting the issue, Choong game for change

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am


In Eddy Choong's heyday, being politically correct didn't matter. What counted was being true to oneself, and living by the code where sportsmanship came first. Choong was from this top drawer, and played like a gentleman, even going to the length of conceding a key match after a wrong call by officials.

Seen in this light, and age notwithstanding - he is 81 - we felt the four-time All-England badminton singles champion was the perfect candidate to answer the vexed question his beloved sport is trapped in now: should a skirt-only rule be applied for women.

Choong answers in the affirmative, but believes it would be best left to the individual to decide.

'A woman wearing a skirt is much more beautiful than one in shorts,' says Choong. 'The game today is all about commercialism and television. Without TV no sport can survive and if it is felt that it would make for more attractive viewing, why not? But I don't think it should be forced on any woman. It should be up to her to decide.

'There is no advantage in wearing shorts or skirts. This is all about fashion and money. I think they should just go ahead. And if you have it, why hide it,' he adds with disarming candour.

In town last week as a guest of the Hong Kong Football Club's badminton society, which was celebrating the club's 125th anniversary, Choong was adamant that as long as a rule did not give any unfair advantage to a person, then it should be adopted, especially if it would help raise the sport's profile.

The Badminton World Federation - its 11-strong executive board is exclusively made up of men - has shelved a new skirts-only dress code for women after it ruffled many feathers. The BWF council which met last month in Qingdao decided 'further study' was needed after the strident protests from athletes and officialdom. UK sports minister Hugh Robertson said the move was a 'regressive and damaging' attempt to sex up the sport.

Choong refuses to put such lurid labels on what he feels is a necessary move. 'If you are asking me if this is sexist, I have no comment. But I can't see anything wrong in this. Beauty is beauty, and if you have a dirty mind, you think of dirty things. All I know is that the sport needs it commercially. Money is a necessary evil,' Choong said.

Along with Choong, the other VIP at the Football Club celebrations was Amy Chan Lim-chee. A gold medallist at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, Chan mostly plumped for shorts during her playing career.

'I would leave it to the player to decide,' Chan said. 'I preferred wearing shorts because I felt more comfortable in them. Each player has her own style and character and I wouldn't want restrictions being placed limiting them to what they can do.'

Choong, who appeared in 12 All-England Championship finals, winning four singles and three doubles titles (with his elder brother David), agreed with Chan as they watched the large number of badminton enthusiasts - HKFC has around 250 according to Philip Woolf, the badminton society chairman - take part last Sunday. Choong turned 81 last month, and is still perky and has a sharp mind. He reckons he has won more than 450 titles, including 70 top international tournaments. He held sway at the All-England Championships in the 1950s, and is credited with having been the man who created the first steel racquet which Bill Carlton turned into a necessity for every player.

As a youngster, Choong had many loves - rugby, soccer, hockey and athletics - which took up his spare time. 'Our family was originally from China and I was a sixth generation in Penang. When I was young, I used to play a number of sports and had colours in all sports.

'In rugby, I once scored seven tries in a match, and after that all the forwards jumped on me whether I had the ball or not [he stands at 1.57 metres]. After a while I decided it was a stupid game.

'My father dissuaded me from playing football after getting down an expert who said most footballers end up with long-term injuries to their knees. Hockey was the only sport I didn't give up as its weight training helped me.

'But I stuck to badminton as it was a cheap sport compared to tennis. In tennis, you had to belong to a private club, but in badminton, we could put up a piece of string and have a game. We had hundreds of matches down one street in Penang after we [Malaysia] won the Thomas Cup in 1949,' Choong reminisced.