While wishing everyone a very happy new year, I wanted to take this opportunity to briefly reflect on what was mainly a very difficult 2020 for everyone across our worldwide community and also look ahead to 2021 and how the FIR intends to continue to respond and adapt to the ongoing uncertainty.
New Tournaments in 2020
The year began with the now traditional doubleheader of the Vienna Classics and the Thailand Open, but we were particularly excited about 2 brand-new Challenger tournaments – the Indian Open and the Luxembourg Open (in January and February). Both great, well-supported events which we now hope to expand into bigger IWT’s or even SWT’s in the future.
Bringing Racketlon to India is a particular priority, simply because there is such huge potential there. Alongside RISA (Racketlon India Sports Association) I used my 10 day stay there last January for a series of productive meetings and press conferences around their inaugural tournament. The Racketlon seed has now been planted in India and we can already see some very exciting signs of growth!
New Tournaments Vital for Growth
Each year, we always aim to introduce a minimum of 2 brand new tournaments at venues that have never hosted an FIR tournament before. It is something we’ve managed to do in 2019, 2020 and will succeed again in 2021. I feel it’s a vital aim for the FIR in order to keep the World Tour interesting, varied and different each year, but also new tournaments in new places always expose Racketlon to new players, which is fundamental to the sport’s growth.
As Racketlon further expands, we look forward to what we hope will be many brand-new tournaments in 2021: Sihlsports Open in Langnau am Albis, Switzerland, Nick Matthew Steel City Open in Sheffield, UK (2nd time lucky!) and the Rotterdam Open in the Netherlands. We also have advanced plans for tournaments in Alicante and Norway – details to be announced soon.
I know how keen the community is to get back on court and we have a truly exciting 2021 World Tour planned which will visit many new places and also have a World Championships in Vienna and Graz which will be the biggest we have ever staged.
Let’s now hope that corona restrictions will allow at least the majority of our plans to be realised.
Off-Court & Online
With no tournaments and no opportunity to practice through much of 2020, the FIR launched a campaign to try and keep the Racketlon community engaged, talking and interested. We also continued our attempts to spread the Racketlon word amongst the wider racket sports communities.
Various online racket challenges got a big response, with videos posted by people from 6 continents with Badminton Europe and World Squash both sharing and promoting our content.
Weekly online quizzes and work out sessions, fantasy world cups, a series of ‘Meet the Stars’ interviews have all helped keep our growing community together.
The first-ever webinar for all FIR member countries was held with speakers across a wide range of topics aimed to help countries develop. This has already led to a number of very encouraging projects – one example being Racketlon USA signing up badminton player Michelle Li (current world no.10) as their first official Racketlon ambassador.
Keeping Our Online Momentum Through a Difficult 2020
We started our big social media push at the start of 2019 to both increase the awareness of Racketlon online but also to engage our existing community more effectively. With very few tournaments and therefore much less usual content throughout 2020, our big concern was that the momentum we gained in 2019 would be lost in 2020. But I’m very happy that the hard work we’ve put in throughout 2020 has managed to keep that momentum and with Instagram, in particular, has seen a huge growth:
Year-end 2018 to year-end 2019:
From year-end 2019 to year-end 2020:
- Facebook: 15% growth in page likes/followers
- Instagram: 496% growth in followers
Our increased online presence and greater effectiveness across social media over the last 12 months has directly led to various new projects, new sponsor contacts and possible new tournament opportunities in Norway, UK, Singapore, Brazil, Belgium, Malaysia, Egypt, Madeira and the UAE, all of which we are actively pursuing.
Our online efforts and effectiveness is working and we aim to further grow all our social media channels by 25% in 2021.
Unprecedented Financial Pressure for All Sport at All Levels Across the World
2020 was obviously dominated by the global pandemic and all the resulting restrictions meaning the vast majority of the World Tour was cancelled. Even though we have delayed the start of the 2021 World Tour, it still looks likely that we will face some disruption to the first half of this year at the very least.
The lack of tournaments throughout 2020 with continued uncertainty in the first quarter of 2021, means that approximately 65% of the FIR’s usual income will have been lost. While we have made every effort to adapt, reduce costs and agree to new payment terms with suppliers, it has meant that we have to use up nearly all of our financial reserves (built up over many years) in order to stay afloat.
Looking forward, the FIR has been forced to take new financial decisions in order just to continue our normal activities but also to re-stock our reserves.
Certain proposals were presented at the AGM in September and below are the details of changes to the Player’s License that were approved. We also intend to hold another AGM early this year where further measures may be proposed depending on any new information about the corona outlook for 2021 and beyond.
The decision below on the Player’s License was not taken lightly. It is not a permanent change and will be reviewed after this year or as soon as we can be more certain about the shape of things to come. More than ever we need the support and understanding of the Racketlon community to help us through these uncertain times.
The annual Player’s License will now increase to EUR40.
For those who play a few tournaments or more per year, the annual player’s license amounts to a very small percentage of their overall costs so we hope this increase will be manageable.
For those who will only play one tournament in 2021, then they still have the option to buy a EUR15 one-tournament Player License which is applicable to one tournament only.
It is worth noting that a EUR15 player licence cannot be repeated in that year or converted to a regular yearly licence. While we acknowledge that this is not ideal, it is a technical limitation on Tournament Software, not our wish.
If players know that they intend to play more than one tournament through the year then it will be a huge help to the FIR if they could purchase their full annual Player’s License early in the year. This will help a lot with our financial stability and allow us to continue our planned activities for the year.
All tournament entry fees and FIR member country fees will remain the same.
In order to continue the administration, governance and promotion of the sport and associated world tour as well as introduce various new, exciting development plans, we will need to undertake a fundraising campaign. For that, we need the help of our community!
We will soon publish all the details in an important, separate announcement, but a core part of our campaign will be to ask for a donation from all those in our community who can help. Everyone who donates will receive a high-end performance shirt from a well-known global brand with a very special, one-off Racketlon design.
Please lookout for more details soon and a huge thank you in advance to everyone that can help. It will go a long way to helping and sustaining our very special sport and community.
Communication, Corona & Racketlon’s Future Role
As we approach the 2021 season, our plans are once again to do everything we can:
- to re-start tournaments (make plans, book venues, promote etc).
- communicate as clearly and as early as we can with the playing community about how the ever-changing restrictions are effecting tournaments.
- to work closely with our team of tournament directors (across over 15 countries) to make sure they abide by all local health regulations and then to communicate all these clearly with all players.
But I believe the corona crisis also offers Racketlon a huge opportunity. The passion that I see in our community to get back on court, to continue playing, learning and enjoying their personal development across a diverse range of skills, shows me just how important Racketlon is and can be to the health and wellness of our community – and vitally to the potential health and wellness of the many people we can bring into Racketlon.
The role that Racketlon can play in helping health and wellness (particularly mental health and fighting obesity) in a post corona world, is something I believe in strongly. This is an area I am keen to explore with a lot of external, expert advice over the next 12 months.
Our recently launched Junior Development programme alongside the ERU will also play an important role feeding into this new emphasis on health and wellness and we are hopeful to start seeing the first results of the junior programme in 2021.
A huge thank you to our team of tournament directors for all the hours and hours of work they have put in through 2020 in the face of so much frustration and uncertainty. In particular, many thanks go to the RFA for being able to put on the GRAWE sidebyside 14. Austrian Open in November within a strict covid bubble – just being able to watch and talk about the live stream gave the whole Racketlon community a great boost.
To the FIR Council who have been called upon to attend many meetings and make a number of difficult decisions. In particular a big thanks to the FIR’s vice president Graham King for the countless hours of work, necessary meetings and conversations with me over the last year!
To the players and worldwide community for continuing to show your support and for all your many messages of thanks, appreciation and encouragement for the work and initiatives we have introduced during a challenging last 12 months.
Please stay healthy and I hope to see you all near a court, table, hotel or player’s party just as soon as is possible.
Duncan Stahl / FIR President.