Suffolk Saxons' future uncertain as National Badminton League ceases

Suffolk Saxons' Sarah Walker and Fee Teng Liew in action at the Ipswich Corn Exchange, which had become their home venue and was sold out virtually every match in the AJ Bell National League
Suffolk Saxons' Sarah Walker and Fee Teng Liew in action at the Ipswich Corn Exchange, which had become their home venue and was sold out virtually every match in the AJ Bell National League

Suffolk's recently-established professional badminton team's future is up for question as team bosses digest the shocking news there will be no national league for them to compete in next season.

The NBL, sponsored by AJ Bell last season, was in its third year and getting national television coverage via BT Sport delayed broadcasts.

But a statement released on the official league website today announced it will 'cease with immediate effect' due to the financial model being deemed 'unsustainable', despite its many successes in bringing top level badminton to a wider and younger audience.

The Saxons are managed by local leisure providers Abbeycroft Leisure, who have leisure centres in Brandon, Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill and Newmarket, on behalf of Suffolk County Council in their drive to get Suffolk recognised as England's most active county, only entered the league a year ago, managing to be in contention for a play-off spot until the final match of the season.

It comes three months after it was announced badminton was to be cut from the Olympic programme by UK Sport ahead of the Tokyko 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Adrian Christy, CEO of league administrators Badminton England, said: “This is a very sad day for English badminton, particularly the many supporters of the NBL whose passion and enthusiasm have made the past three seasons something to be so proud of.

“We have worked so hard over many years to develop our own national league and having to now make such a difficult decision does not sit easy. However, given the situation that we are seeking to bounce back from, I believe it is the right one when we have other priorities to consider.

“On behalf of everyone at Badminton England, I would like to thank all partners, players, event teams, staff and sponsors who turned a dream into reality.

She added: “We would particularly like to thank title sponsors AJ Bell with the support of whom we were able to expand the league as well as Sky Sports and, more latterly, BT Sport.

“Most importantly, our heartfelt thanks go to the six founding teams – Loughborough Lightning, MK Badminton, Team Derby, University of Nottingham, Surrey Smashers and Birmingham Lions and to Suffolk Saxons and Bristol Jets who added so much to the NBL when they joined us at the start of Season three.

“Without your commitment, dedication and extraordinary energy, the NBL would never have gotten off the ground.”

The Saxons, who are led by coach Anthony Clark, were on hand to open Moreton Hall's new Skyliner gym at the start of the year, while also being back at the site this week to run coaching sessions with Bury-area primary school children.

A statement on the club's official website seems to suggest it will not be the end of the recently-formed team, which is only the county's second fully-professional sports team, behind Ipswich Town Football Club.

"Suffolk Saxons are hugely disappointed with Badminton England’s decision to cease the National Badminton League," it read.

"We would like to take the opportunity to thank our head coach Anthony Clark, all of the Saxons players, sponsors, supporters, volunteers and stakeholders for helping us create a unique elite sports experience at the Corn Exchange, and a very special year of badminton for Suffolk.

"We are determined to create a Saxon’s legacy for Suffolk badminton from the fantastic achievements of Suffolk Saxons. Working with the Suffolk Badminton Association and partners we will continue to develop Saxons community badminton and grow the sport."

Abbeycroft's Warren Smyth, Suffolk Saxons' franchise director, said: "Naturally we are all incredibly disappointed with the news, as this has been a fantastic first season for us and we have seen some amazing top class badminton right here in the county. We already have a community development plan in place and will be working hard over the coming weeks and months to ensure we maximise the Saxon’s legacy."