Russian Army: “Badminton helps you throw grenades!”

In a startling display of sycophancy, the Russian Defense Ministry has just announced that it will buy 10,000 badminton rackets and shuttlecocks – all because Russia’s President loves the game.

“Playing badminton uses the same muscles as throwing grenades, knives or other objects,” said Colonel Alexander Shchepelev, quoted in Russian newspaper Izvestia. He also observed that “badminton is very useful for every soldier without exception. But it will be particularly useful for shooters and snipers.”

The badminton equipment will be sent to all military units during the coming year, although there is no news yet of whether funding will be provided to send badminton trainers along with the rackets and shuttlecocks.

The Defense Ministry’s new initiative was announced just weeks after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev extolled the virtues of the sport and appeared on Russian TV playing a quick match against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

In his video blog after the match, Medvedev told Russians that badminton “develops your physical form, eye coordination, accuracy and reactions. Those who play badminton well, take decisions quickly.” He went on to exhort Russians to take up the game: “I hope that, having watched this film, you will feel more desire to play badminton, and we will have more success in this wonderful game.”

And, it appears that quite a few people have taken his exhortation seriously. Very seriously. As well as the Russian military (who presumably will dominate the Olympic badminton tournament in 2016), Russia’s long term success in the sport is assured by the news that badminton will be introduced onto the Russian school sports curriculum from next year.

Hopefully they will do better than their esteemed leaders. The Guardian sports blog asked some sports coaches what they thought of Medvedev and Putin’s performance – they weren’t very impressed. “The level on the video isn’t high,” says Kenneth Jonassen, head coach of Team GB. “I think [Medvedev] hasn’t played for that long.”

Still, its probably better for World Peace that the Russian military follows Mededev’s advice and takes up badminton, rather than following Putin’s example and trying their hands at tiger taming or topless fishing.

Intriguing Update – later on the same day

After this story went global, a highly embarrassed Russian Defense Ministry has denied that there were ever any plans to introduce badminton training into the Russian army. The Guardian newspaper reports:

“Badminton is not a military applied sport in the Russian armed forces, and its development is not included in the physical training programme for military personnel,” the ministry said, adding that it was “surprised” by the report. “The passage about snipers ‘beginning to be obliged to study’ badminton is the personal opinion of the journalist,” it said.

Izvestiya stood by its story. “The defence ministry is a very closed organisation and deny any information that is not got through official channels,” said the report’s author, Denis Telmanov. He added that two other sources had confirmed the existence of the badminton plan. “We know it’s true. There are courts. There are rackets.”

Swift response from the Russian Government – but how convincing is it?

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