Four franchise teams in the LearnCoach New Zealand Badminton League are competing over a seven-week period for the illustrious "Willans and Wong Presidents' Cup" and prize pool of $15,000 NZD - but what is the name behind the cup?
A familiar name and face amongst the badminton community, and one half of the Willans and Wong Presidents' Cup, is Badminton New Zealand President Ian Willans. Born and bred in the 'Naki, and proud representative of the province, Willans competed in New Zealand’s prestigious Wisden Cup for over 20 years. After shoulder injuries, he looked at contributing back to the sport in other ways, including stints as President of Taranaki and South Canterbury assocations, before being elected as Badminton New Zealand President in 2016.
I believe you can be just as involved from the sidelines, in fact sometimes make even better contributions to the sport without being a player.
He first instigated a tennis tournament in the South Island, for the Top 8 men with a sizeable prize pool, which had players claiming it was "the best tournament in New Zealand." This prompted Willans to think how or where could he provide a similar contribution to badminton. He took this inspiration to be instrumental in the resurrection of the New Zealand Open in 2013. "We've got a great sport, great people and the new league gives badminton fans and our community something to really get behind," he said.
Meanwhile, fellow former badminton player, and current President of World Chinese Badminton Federation – NZ Branch, John Wong is the other piece to the Willans & Wong Presidents Cup. The pair met on the badminton court over thirty years ago, and despite contrasting lifestyles and residing at opposite ends of the country, they have remained good friends ever since. When both men were presented the opportunity to be a significant part of the NZBL, they jumped at the chance to once again give back to badminton. "Both Ian and I are proud to sponsor the Presidents' Cup and wish the LearnCoach NZBL every success."
One thing is for sure - Willans and Wong - alongside many other Kiwi and international viewers, will be tuned into SKY Sport Next on Tuesday night for the NZBL launch. Wong concludes:
It's fantastic that Badminton New Zealand have partnered with SKY Sport to bring the league live and streamed across New Zealand and the world. We look to get badminton fans and communities involved as supporters and hopefully lift the game to another level and spectacle with future participation of international players.
The LearnCoach New Zealand Badminton League air on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, on the Sky Sport Next YouTube channel and Sky Sport 9.