The Indonesian netizens who descended on British actor and comic Stephen Fry’s Instagram post last weekend were of an outspoken disposition, like Wodehouse’s Jeeves might have noted. And though the specifics of their remarks in Indonesian Bahasa might well be forgotten, the content of their badminton-related disgruntlement addressed to Fry was inimitably ‘opprobrious’. It was Fry’s mistaken resemblance to an English service judge at the All England that brought on the scorn, funnelling the rage onto his dormant social media page.
When the proud badminton nation’s team was withdrawn last Wednesday from the All England by organisers under UK’s Covid-19 guidelines after being on the same Istanbul-London flight as a positive case, diehard Indonesian fans had gotten furious.
Shuttlers and support staff from Denmark, India and Thailand had first tested positive and later been cleared to play after retests. The Indonesian team – vaccinated and testing negative on arrival in the UK – though were grounded on account of the country’s contact tracing quarantine regulations. But not before Indonesia’s beloved doubles team of Mohammed Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan finished their first round match, beating Scottish-English team of Sean Vendy/Ben Lane. Service judge Alan Crow – or his screenshot – had flown into the Indonesian faithful’s radar in this match.
The game was a 21-18, 19-21, tight three-set affair, where local English service judge, the experienced and respected Crow, pinged Ahsan about five times during the match for a high service fault. The Indonesian legend, one half of the iconic “Daddies” pairing, who’s not given to bouts of rage, had looked miffed at being persistently faulted, and even complained to the chair umpire in vain.
Crow, the Lancashireman, who is expected to travel to Tokyo for officiating in the Paralympics, had stuck to his guns. That it was a local officiating in a match against the home team was frowned upon by Indonesians in any case. Then when Lane-Vendy (Bendy) pushed the Daddies to the brink, and the service faults cost the latter points, fans back in Asia watching at primetime frothed at what they reckoned was ‘biased’ officiating.
The next morning they would wake up to the news that the entire squad including Daddies, their top-ranked doubles pairings Marcus Gideon/Kevin Sukamuljo — ‘Minions’ — and two adored singles players – Jonatan Christie (who dedicated his emotional win to his deceased brother) and Antony Ginting, had all been forced to withdraw altogether.
It was particularly aggravating since the Indonesians were emerging from the Covid-19 hiatus of almost a year. A diplomatic kerfuffle would ensue, with ambassadors and ministers swinging into action.
Netizens meanwhile forced a shutting of the BWF tournament page. International players of various nationalities were peppered with angry messages of ‘Unfair’ while the team was eventually extracted sooner than the stipulated 10 day quarantine and reached home to a ‘welcome Heroes’ reception.
While this fire raged online, someone from amongst the impassioned fans zeroed in on Stephen Fry, directing all the traffic of “unfair judge”, “injustice” and other opprobrious descriptors towards his five-month old post.
Fry had emerged from his own social media lockdown holiday (where he posted pictures of neckties daily before pausing his posts), to make an appeal on a political issue close to his heart. Asking his followers to join in solidarity with Belarusian theatre company’s artists who were ‘detained and brutalised’ and urging the government to sanction the dictatorial regime, Fry had appeared in a video donning the red and white colours of the east European nation.
Indonesian fans who made the mistaken connection from video grabs of the Daddies – Bendy match showing the right profile of the service judge Crow, would latch upon this last post of Fry’s to air their fury and sense of hurt suffered by their badminton heroes at the hands of UK organisers. The badminton world federation was ordered to behave responsibly as well in myriad versions of a polite and impolite hashtag.
BWF’s Danish president Poul-Erik Hoyer would on Tuesday apologise profusely to Indonesians – from their head of state to players and fans – for events of the past week. “Rest assured, I really love Indonesia,” the former Olympic champion would end, besides making promises of improving how badminton tournaments would be conducted.
Stephen Fry had not reacted to this storm on his Insta responses, having not revisited the picture sharing site with new posts. In his latest Twitter entry though, he was wondering about hispi (or Chinese) cabbages used in MasterChef recipes. Indonesian fans having realised their mistake meanwhile had scribbled apologies on his account, and were last seen scolding each other for trolling the wrong gentleman and urging others to end hate speech, which was giving them a bad name.