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There’s a lot of talk about how badminton umpires must make sure there is no undue delay in play, in order to make the sport more audience-friendly. Umpires are expected to keep players on a fairly tight leash and dish out warnings when they take too long to get ready to play the next point.

When players are in trouble or tired and their game is not working for them, we frequently see them doing their best to try to circumvent this by going for long walks around the court and trying to find ways to take little breaks to cut off bad rhythms/streaks. Most of these are things the umpire can approve or deny at their discretion, and we often see the umpire telling the player they can’t take a break, hurrying them to get ready.

If the umpire is already on a player for being too slow and delaying play, we sometimes see them instead take a challenge just get a break, even if the shuttle was not just out, but very obviously out.

Challenges, however, are not generally at the umpire’s discretion in the same way that towelling off, changing the shuttle or wiping the court is. Looking through the BWF Umpire & Service Judge Instructions, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of specific rules about handling challenges, except that players must challenge immediately. If they’re too slow in calling the challenge, the umpire can refuse the call – and what constitutes ‘too slow’ is entirely the umpire’s call. But there’s nothing in there, as far as I can tell, about other venues for the umpire to refuse a challenge.

Famously, in a round-of-16 game at the 2016 China Open, umpire Cai Fengjie incorrectly denied a Japanese set-point challenge. To all appearances, he gave no reason at all for doing so, but his refusal stood, and the Japanese duo lost the set. So at least in that situation, the umpire did seem to have pretty much full autonomy over allowing or disallowing a challenge (although this was a Chinese umpire, presiding over a game with a Chinese pair playing, in a Chinese tournament… so perhaps not quite the norm).

So my question is essentially two-fold:

  • In general: does the umpire have the right to allow or deny a challenge call for any reason they see fit (not just the call being too slow)?
  • More specifically: can the umpire decide that a challenge call is just a ploy to get a break and not made in good faith (i.e., there’s no way the player actually thinks the shuttle was in), and refuse to allow the challenge on this basis?
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It's hard to prove a negative, but neither the Laws, nor the Instructions to Technical Officials, nor the BWF umpire manuals mention any right of the umpire to refuse a challenge.

The only limitation on challenges follows from §5.8.5 ITTO:

(...) The player must clearly say ‘Challenge’ to the Umpire and/or make a clear signal by raising the hand. Any such challenge must be made by the player immediately after the player has observed the call made by the Umpire or Line Judge. (...)

So a player cannot wait, and then challenge.

If the player challenges timely and clearly, and has at least one challenge left, then the umpire must allow it.

Since challenges are limited to two incorrect challenges per game and players probably want to keep at least one option, delaying with challenges is rather limited in the first place. Also, unlike other ways of delay, it is upon the BWF and its technical providers to speed up challenges.

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  • Yeah, it’s mostly seen later on in sets when they’re clearly worried about getting carded if they take more walks around the court but still need a bit of a break. It’s almost a shame the umpire seemingly can’t refuse frivolous challenges. But it’s interesting that the ITTO specifies “immediately after the player has observed the call made”, since I’ve seen multiple instances of challenges being denied for being too late because the players had not seen that a call had been changed, and thought they’d won the point. So really those challenges should have been allowed as well. Nov 20 at 22:14
  • From this description, it sounds like there is far too much subjectivity in how challenges work. Compare cricket's UDRS for example, the umpire must make a clear signal only after reaching a decision, not changing it without review, and the players then have a defined time in which to decide on using a challenge, and will be told when that time is almost run out in case they are still thinking.
    – Nij
    Nov 20 at 23:44
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    @Nij In badminton, the time available to call a challenge is indeed up to the umpire, but it is much shorter than your description makes it seem for cricket – note the word “immediately” in the quote. Usually umpires will refuse a call if the player hasn’t called it within about two to three seconds, so a system like the one in cricket isn’t really feasible. Nov 21 at 11:01

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