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Lee Jae-in in a still from Racket Boys. Photo: Handout

Indonesians slam badminton K-drama ‘Racket Boys’ for ‘racist’ depiction

  • The South Korean drama has angered Indonesian internet users after it was perceived to have insulted the Southeast Asian nation’s badminton team and fans
  • Indonesia is a force in the sport, and is set to take on rivals such as China and Denmark in the Tokyo Olympics
K-drama Racket Boys has become the target of Indonesian internet users’ ire over the past week after the show was perceived to have insulted the country’s badminton team and its fans – an unforgivable misstep in a country where the sport is a national pastime.

The kerfuffle started when Racket Boys – a story about a ragtag high-school badminton team produced by South Korea’s SBS TV – aired its fifth episode on June 14, in which the characters were shown competing in Indonesia. The coaches and players were shown to be upset as they were hosted in poor accommodation.

“The host trains in a stadium and we are forced to train at some run-down place with no air conditioner. Those jerks,” a coach said.

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Quipped another character: “Sir, calm down. This isn’t the first time, you know. There’s only one reason for this. Han Se-yoon. [Indonesia] wants to win against her, no matter what it takes,” he added, referring to the name of a fictional badminton player in the show.

In another scene, Han – played by Lee Jae-in – was taunted by Indonesian supporters, of which a South Korean coach remarked: “They wouldn’t boo if they had any manners.”

South Korea went on to beat Indonesia in the show.

Racket Boys is a story about a ragtag high-school badminton team. Photo: Handout

The scenes didn’t sit right with viewers in the Southeast Asian nation, where the Korean Wave has been a part of the national zeitgeist for years. Internet users then flocked to the production company’s Instagram accounts to voice their disappointment over the perceived racist treatment of Indonesian badminton fans.


Said an Instagram user in the comments of a post promoting the series: “Don’t let them trample Indonesia’s [name]. They know that we really love Korean drama. So they thought they could do whatever they wanted?”

Fans also went to the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) website in a coordinated attempt to bring the show’s rating down. It is now rated just 1.3 stars out of 10 on the popular site, where the show’s name was briefly edited to RacketRacist before being changed back to the original.

SBS last week apologised for the episode, saying that it “didn’t mean to degrade a certain country, player, or spectator”.

“We apologise for some of the scenes that have offended our viewers in Indonesia. We will be paying the next episodes more attention,” it said – though this has not stopped the floods of comments on its Instagram posts.

“That is not an official apology. If they still need to be on the good side of their Indonesian fans … I think they have to correct that dialogue, because that was factually [wrong],” Syaiful Huda, chairman of the parliamentary Commission X that oversees education, sports, and history, told local news portal Detik. “Maybe it was because they could not defeat us in real life, so they got their revenge through the show.”


He added that Indonesia had been often recognised “for their good hosting of badminton tournaments, so the scenes in the show can be debunked”.

Broto Happy, a spokesperson for the Badminton Association of Indonesia (PBSI) said the organisation was “not bothered” about the drama surrounding Racket Boys.

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“I will let other people comment on it, we don’t think about things like that. We are now focused on [player] development, that’s where we spend our energy on,” Broto told This Week in Asia.


This isn’t the first time Indonesians have been up in arms about badminton, the only sport in which Indonesia has won an Olympic gold medal – albeit seven times.

In March, Indonesian shuttlers were forced by the organisers to withdraw from the All England badminton tournament due to Covid-19 exposure. Indonesians flocked en masse to the Instagram account of the Badminton World Federation (BWF), prompting the body to partly disable its comments section. Badminton fans also came for British comedian Stephen Fry on the social media platform, having initially pegged him as one of the competition’s umpires.

One of the dominant forces in the sport, Indonesia is a 13-time winner of the Thomas Cup, the world’s most prestigious badminton tournament for men, and has won the Uber Cup – the competition for women – three times.

Indonesian players have won 23 medals at the BWF World Championships since its inception in 1977, second only to China’s 66 victories. Now, the country has set its sights on the Tokyo Olympics, where it will compete with rivals including China, Denmark, South Korea, and host Japan.
“All countries are tough, particularly in men’s singles since [all the good players] will compete in the Tokyo Olympics,” Broto said.

“All the good players will compete in women’s singles too, except for Carolina Marin,” he added, referring to the Rio Olympics badminton champion who will not represent Spain in Tokyo due to injury.

While the postponement of the Games did not affect the players’ stamina, Broto said, the pandemic had prevented the team from participating in many tournaments ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, limiting their options for warm-up competitions.

He said that Indonesia would send 11 shuttlers to Tokyo as the country aimed to win gold in all five events.

Among the athletes are the current world No 1 men’s doubles pairing, Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo; second-ranked doubles duo Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan; as well as Anthony Sinisuka Ginting and Jonatan Christie, ranked at No 5 and No 7 respectively in men’s singles. The team is scheduled to depart for Japan on July 8, according to Broto.

The stakes are high for all of the athletes, but particularly for Hendra Setiawan, who is poised to record what the BWF has dubbed a “crazy achievement” if he wins in Tokyo.

“At the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if Setiawan is successful in winning the gold with Mohammad Asan, then he will become the only doubles player to have won the Olympic Games, Asian Games, and World Championship with two different partners,” said Ben Beckman of the BWF in a Twitter video.

Before partnering with Mohammad, Setiawan’s long-time partner was the late Markis Kido, a successful pairing that earned them gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Kido died last week at the age of 36 due to a heart attack, leaving the badminton community in grief.

“He was an extraordinary and a very talented player. I wanted to say many thanks for being an amazing partner for me, in victory or defeat,” Setiawan said of Kido in an Instagram post.