Barbara Fryer the High-Flyer Makes It a First

Tokyo 2020 is a special occasion for Barbara Fryer – she will be BWF’s first female head referee at an Olympic or Paralympic Games.

Fryer, an international referee since 2004, is naturally elated.

“I hope I’ll be the first in a row as we have many capable women amongst badminton referees.”

Fryer’s career in sports administration began at Swiss Olympic. In 1986, she moved to Swiss Badminton, setting up the office in Berne and then presiding over the federation for five years in the 1990s. Having studied psychology, she became a career counsellor for young people and adults, and is now part of the advice centre’s management team.

How do you feel about being head referee for the Paralympics?

I was thrilled when I received the appointment letter. Having been involved in Para badminton since 2000 (when it was still called Badminton for the Disabled), getting this honour during our sport’s first ever appearance at the Paralympics feels like a circle is completed.

How long have you been a Para badminton referee?

About 20 years ago, Paul Kurzo (Vice-President BWF Para badminton) asked if I’d be interested in refereeing the first international Para badminton tournament in Switzerland. I was not even aware it was possible to play badminton in a wheelchair and just went along for the fun – and stayed with it until today.

Why badminton?  

I was a volleyball player and referee. When I started working for Swiss Badminton, I was interested in getting to know the sport and began playing in a newly founded club where most of the members were beginners as I was. I got hooked, but my talents as a player were limited, so I decided to pursue being an umpire and referee.

Fryer (centre) with Kurzo (extreme left) and other officials at the TOTAL BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2019.

What preparations are needed leading up to the Games in 2021?

The most important was the test tournament at the Paralympic venue in Tokyo last year. Although some things will be different during the Games, we were able to familiarise ourselves with the facilities and discuss some of our requirements with the organising committee.

We were also able to test the official OMEGA equipment and results system to get to know the many procedures to follow at the Paralympics, which are considerably different to a regular tournament. I was amazed with the amount of paperwork involved. The Para badminton family is able to benefit from BWF’s experience at previous Olympics.

How has the postponement interfered with preparations?

It was just important to know I’ll still be able to rely on the same team of technical officials as we worked together very well during the test event. I hope it will be possible to hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2021.

What are some of the common issues that arise among players, coaches and umpires during a competition and how do you deal with them?

Scheduling is normally an issue because in Para badminton we have many events and the first round is always played in pools. This means a lot of matches and finals have to be played over only four or five days.

Other things include the special regulations that apply to wheelchair badminton i.e. sitting position, fixation of the feet or the fact that part of the player’s trunk should be in contact with the seat when hitting the shuttle, which is very difficult to see for the umpire.

We often also have to deal with damage to the equipment (prosthesis, wheelchairs, fixations) during play. Although the Laws of Badminton provide for this, we still have to decide how much time to allow so it’s fair to the opponent.

What improvements would you like to see made to Para badminton tournaments?

A lot of work has already gone towards more professionalism and a better presentation of the game. Further developments such as the creation of two categories of tournaments are well under way. I am hoping more women will be encouraged to play Para badminton so that in future we can have more women-only events.

What do you love about refereeing Para badminton?

The familial atmosphere. The Para badminton community is still one big family striving to develop and promote its sport. Therefore, I work more closely with coaches and players to improve all aspects of the game.

What has being a Para badminton referee taught you?

A certain humbleness. It’s amazing to witness the athletes overcoming their disability and striving to achieve their aims in sport with passion and determination, but all the way showing respect and appreciation for each other.

What do you think makes a good referee? 

We have to team up and work with many different characters, and it’s important to be able to adapt in order to be successful. Good communication skills, an open mind, a talent for improvisation and a strong dose of stoicism and humour will take you a long way.

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