What does an Umpire do in Badminton?

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There are several governing officials in badminton, known as technical officials, each with a particular set of roles and responsibilities for the sport. While having technical officials present in local tournament play is considered a luxury, professional tournaments will staff each court with 1 umpire, 1 service judge, and between 8 – 10 line judges. The entire tournament, however, is overseen by a referee. Let’s take a look into the world of an umpire, the king of the court from a governance standpoint, in professional badminton.

An umpire in badminton is responsible for the court and its immediate surroundings, but ultimately reports to the referee. The jurisdiction of an umpire starts prior to a match as soon as the umpire steps into the field of play and lasts until the umpire leaves the field of play at the conclusion of a match.

The responsibilities of an umpire include managing on-court technical officials, tracking and recording the score, and enforcing that players compete fairly and properly.

Prior to the match, an umpire’s responsibilities include off-court tasks such as securing the proper number of technical officials and checking the clothing and equipment of the players to ensure that they meet regulation. On court, the umpire will start with a coin flip to determine the server and the receiver, and which court each player will play on before starting the timer for the warm-up.

During the match, the umpire is in charge of tracking and announcing the score, governing the court to ensure continuous play, prevent misconduct and issue penalties, where appropriate. The umpire has the unique ability to overrule the calls of other on-court technical officials. The umpire may also step in to cover the duties of other technical officials if they are absent or unsighted. Between games, the umpire will call out the winner of games, instruct for the court to be wiped and time the breaks, otherwise known as intervals.

After the match, the umpire will announce the winning team and deliver the results of the match, alongside any incidents, to the referee immediately upon the match’s conclusion.

Let’s take a closer look at the 7 most important responsibilities of an umpire in badminton.

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Call Faults

A fault is called in badminton when there is a violation of the playing rules – in serving, receiving, or during play. The umpire is in charge of calling all of the faults for their court with the exception of service faults called by the service judge. When a fault is committed, the umpire shall clearly call “Fault” and award the point to the team which did not commit the fault.

Common faults in badminton include:

  1. A shuttlecock being hit twice in succession by the same player or by the players that form the same team before the shuttlecock crosses the net.
  2. A shuttlecock that touches a player’s racket but does not travel towards the opponents court.
  3. A player invading an opponents’ court either above or below the net in a way that obstructs or distracts the opponent.

For the complete list of faults in badminton, refer to BWF’s Laws of Badminton.

Call Lets

A let is called by the umpire to halt play in order to re-start the point. This typically happens when one side or the other is not ready or if there are unforeseen distractions.

Some of the most common scenarios in which umpires will call a “Let” are:

  1. The server serves before the receiver is ready. It is important to note that if the receiving player makes an attempt at the serve, the rally would be played out as if both sides were ready.
  2. The shuttle is caught on the net and remains suspended on its top. It will only be considered a let if this occurs after the service. If during the serve, the shuttle is caught on the net, a point will be awarded to the receiving team.
  3. During a rally, a shuttle from outside of the game lands in a way that distracts a player. Simply having a shuttle enter your court during a rally is not enough for a let to be called. The shuttle needs to interfere the players in a way that play is disrupted.
  4. When all of the technical officials are unsighted for a call. This typically happens when a line judge does not see whether a shuttle landed in or out for the line they are managing and the umpire is also unsighted.

Approve Shuttlecock Changes

Feathered shuttles, which are used in professional tournaments, are fragile in nature. When even a single feather is damaged, the flight and stability of the shuttlecock can be severely altered. When a player or team wishes to change the shuttlecock, they must first show the feathers of the shuttlecock to the umpire, who will either approve or reject the request. If approved, the current shuttlecock is brought to the service judge, who will exchange it for a new one.

While in most cases, both sides in a match are in agreement to change the shuttlecock, players may use it as a stall tactic during a match – such as taking advantage to regain their breath, energy or composure. Otherwise, changing shuttles can also be a strategy to disrupt the flow of opponents who might be having a streak of winning points.

Shuttlecock Exchange
Shuttlecock Exhange

Track and Announce the Score of the Game

The umpire will track and announce the score of the game after each and every point. Each game in the match starts with the umpire calling “Love all, play.” This call indicates that the score is 0 – 0. The score of the serving team will always be called first. The umpire will use the term “all” to indicate when the score of both sides are the same (e.g. “one all” or “eleven all”).

When the first team reaches 20 points, and it is not the deciding game of the match, the umpire will call “twenty, game point” + the opponents score (e.g. “twenty, game point eighteen”). If the teams end up in a series of deuces – when the score of each side is the same – the umpire will continue to apply the rule of calling “game point” after the score if one of the teams would win the game by winning the current point (e.g. “twenty two, game point twenty one”). Else, if it is the deciding game of the match, the umpire will replace “game point” with “match point” (e.g “twenty, match point eighteen” or “twenty two, match point twenty one”). The only exception is if both sides are tied at 29 all, this will be called as “twenty nine, game point, all” or “twenty nine, match point, all.”

Regardless of whether a team scores the winning game or match point, the umpire will call “Game.” Depending on which game of the match was concluded, the umpire will call the following:

  • First game: “Game. First game won by [name of player(s), or Member (in a team tournament)], … (score).”
  • Second game, if not the deciding game: “Game. Second game won by [name of player(s), or Member (in a team tournament)], … (score); one game all.”
  • Third or deciding game: “Game. Match won by [name of player(s), or Member (in a team tournament)], … (scores of the games.)”

Initiate the Coin Flip to Determine the Server and the Receiver

Once the players arrive onto the court, the umpire will engage one player from each team for the coin flip. The umpire will ask one of the players to call a side of the coin. The player who wins the coin flip has 4 options across 2 categories (serve or side):

Category: Serve

  • Option 1: Serve First
  • Option 2: Receive First

Category: Side

  • Option 3: Start on Side A, or
  • Option 4: Start on Side B

When the team who wins the coin flip chooses their preferred option, their opponents will, by default, receive the other other option in that category. After which, the team who lost the coin flip will then have first pick between the 2 options in the remaining category (serve or side).

Example 1: If team 1 chooses to serve, team 2 will automatically be the first team to receive. Team 2 will then be able to choose to start the first game on Side A or Side B.
Example 2: if team 1 choose to start on Side A, team 2 will automatically start on Side B. Team 2 will then be able to choose to either start the first game by serving or receiving.

There are benefits to each option. From the service category, players may excel in serving or receiving and can choose to capitalize on it. Additionally – at the professional badminton level – players will also have studied their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. When making a choice, players can also base their decision with their knowledge of where their opponents struggle.

On the other hand, each badminton facility will have nuances which the players need to adapt to. Each side of the court will have different wind drafts that will alter the flight pattern of the shuttlecock – this is mainly due to air conditioning and air circulation within the facility. Choosing the more favorable side from a wind draft perspective can provide a team the momentum they need in the deciding third game, before the teams must change ends. Other nuisances that players must adapt to are the lighting on each side of the court and the depth from the end of a court to the wall, as it can impact perception.

Time the Warm-up and Intervals

Warm-ups and intervals, otherwise known as breaks given during and between games, are timed by the umpire to ensure continuous play within a badminton match.

Warm-up: Immediately after the coin flip and the umpire climbs into his/her chair, a timer for 2 minutes will be started. After 90 seconds, the umpire will call “Ready to play” to instruct the players to get ready to begin the match. Before the 2 minutes are concluded, the umpire will announce the match by introducing each of the players, starting with the team on the umpire’s right side, then the team on the umpire’s left side. The end of the warm-up will be marked by the calling of “Play.”

Mid-Game Interval: During the game, an interval (or break) is offered as soon as the first team reaches 11 points. The interval will be announced when the umpire calls “11-[other team’s score], interval” (e.g. “11-5, interval“). The mid-game interval lasts for 60 seconds, where after 40 seconds passes, the umpire will call “Court [number], 20 seconds” and repeat the call. This indicates to the coaches that they must return to their designated chairs and for the players to return to their rightful positions on the court. The mid-game interval is concluded by the umpire calling the current score, followed by ”Play.“

Between-Game Interval(s): After a game concludes and the umpire calls “Game,” an interval of 2 minutes will be provided to the players. At this time, the players must move their equipment from their court-side bins to the respective bins on the other side of the court, as the players will change ends. At 100 seconds, the umpire will call “Court [number], 20 seconds” and repeat the call. Similarly to the Mid-Game Interval, this indicates to the coaches that they must return to their designated chairs and for players to assume their appropriate starting positions. The between-game interval is concluded by the umpire calling “Second (or Final) game. Love all. Play.”

Third Game Interval: This interval only occurs only during the third game of a match. It is exactly the same as the mid-game interval in terms of being called when the first side reaches 11 points and lasts for 60 seconds. At 40 seconds, the umpire will also call “Court [number], 20 seconds” and repeat the call. The only difference is that during this interval, the players must again move their equipment from their court-side bins to the respective bins on the other side of the court, as the players will change ends. The modified call that the umpire will call is “11-[other team’s score], change ends.” The third game interval will also conclude with the umpire calling the current score, followed by “Play.”

Override the Line Judge when Necessary

An umpire can override a line judge if he/she thinks, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the call was wrong. In such cases, the umpire will immediately call “Correction”, followed by “In” or “Out” depending on what they are correcting the call to.

Enforce Proper Sportsmanship and Penalize Players for Violations

Common types of misconducts:

  1. Deliberately causing delay or suspension of play. This can come in the form of not being ready to receive, elongated service times, or pacing the court resulting in the delay of the next point.
  2. Completing a match in progress unless reasonably unable to do so. Because there are requirements for the top ranked players in each discipline to compete in certain tournaments, players are dissuaded from forfeiting for illegitimate reasons.
  3. Intentionally tampering with the shuttle such that it affects the speed or flight. This can be done through bending or breaking of the feathers on the shuttle.

Lesser seen misconducts:

1. Not using one’s “best efforts” to win a match. A notorious situation where this occurred was in the 2012 London Olympic Games in 2 matches in the women’s doubles discipline. One match was Korea vs. China, while the other match was Korea vs. Indonesia. All 8 players were ultimately disqualified from the olympics for their behavior, as the teams were trying to lose intentionally to get a favorable seed in the main draw of the tournament. Check out the infamous match between Korea and China below:

2. Physically abusing an official, opponent, spectator or other person. One of the most notable occurrences was during the 2013 Canada Open finals between the then former partners Maneepong Jongjit and Bodin Issara. Both players were disqualified from the match and banned from badminton for 2 years. Funny fact is that they compete together now as a men’s doubles pair representing Thailand. Check out the fight below:

Process for Handling Misconducts:

  1. When a player commits a misconduct for the first time, the umpire will issue that player a warning. The umpire will call “Come here” to the offending player followed by “[name of player] warning of misconduct” followed by the specific explanation of the misconduct. During this time, the umpire will hold a yellow card above his/her head with his/her right hand.
  2. When a player repeats a misconduct for a second time, the umpire will issue that player a fault. Similarly to the warning, the umpire will call “Come here” to the offending player followed by “[name of player] fault for misconduct” followed by the specific explanation of the misconduct. During this time, the umpire will hold a red card above his/her head with her/her right hand. The referee will be called over and the misconduct that resulted in the fault will be discussed with the referee.
  3. When a referee is called to a court, they may decide to disqualify the offending player(s). In such cases, the referee will hand a black card to the umpire. The umpire will call “Come here” to the offending player followed by “[name of player] disqualified for misconduct” followed by the specific explanation of the misconduct. During this time, the umpire will hold the black card above his head with his right hand. Immediately after, the umpire will then announce that the match is won by the team that is not disqualified with the team’s respective scores.

The various misconducts may result in players being fined between $150 – $5000 USD depending on the nature and severity of the offense. For a full list of the misconducts and their associated fines, check out the following Table of Offenses and Penalties.

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