Indonesia faces badminton medal drought at Athens
One-time world champions Indonesia acknowledges that winning Olympic badminton medals this year will be tough _ a bleak prediction that the country's TV companies seem to share.
Local stations say they will not broadcast live coverage of this year's Olympics because few Indonesians will want to watch their shuttlers struggling in Athens. The decision means Indonesia will be the only country with athletes at the games not to be televising them.
"The TV stations know our chances are not as good as they once were," said Rudy Hartono, Olympic team manager and eight-time All England Champion. "It's disappointing."
Fourteen years ago in Barcelona, when the sport made its Olympic debut, Indonesia won a horde of badminton medals, including its first ever gold.
The performances enthralled millions of TV viewers in the world's fourth most populous country and made national heroes of the shuttlers.
Indonesian players have never repeated that performance, but have always managed to return home with at least one gold for their badminton-crazed country.
This time around, even that looks unlikely. Many are predicting that arch rival China will sweep unprecedented gold medals in the men's and females singles and doubles.
No Indonesian shuttlers are currently in the world's top 10. Its two medal hopes in the men's singles are captain Sony Dwi Koncoro and former world number one Taufik Hidayat.
The country's female players whose decline has been more spectacular than the males, have not qualified for the singles events in Athens, though will be represented in the doubles. China's male players occupy five of the top 10 spots in the international rankings. In April in Jakarta, China won the Thomas and Uber Cups _ badminton's premier team events for female and male shuttlers respectively. Indonesian had held the Thomas Cup for the last five years.
"We will be trying our best in Athens," said Hartono, who is considered by some as the sport's greatest ever player. "We hope to get medals, but I think it will not be easy, especially against the Chinese team."
Indonesian badminton has been shaken by a steady exodus of top players in recent years amid disagreements with the country's badminton officials over salaries.
Former world number one Tony Gunawan now plays for the United States, while ex-female star Mia Audina now represents the Netherlands.
Indonesia's financial crisis in 1997-1998 left sponsorship hard to find. It also led to massive social unrest in which Chinese Indonesians _ who traditionally form the nucleus of the country's badminton team _ were targeted.
Just under half of the 32 Indonesians competing in Athens are badminton players. The country's others chief medal hopes lie in archery and taekwondo.