As usual, my trip started with a quick flight from Cardiff Airport to Schipol Airport. However, this small flight was delayed by quite a bit which meant I was under pressure to make my connecting flight. However, managed to make it to the correct gate just before it opened, plenty of time! Then before I knew it, I had started my 11 hour flight to Seoul. A sleep and a couple of movies later, I had arrived at the beautiful island airport of Incheon in 25oC sunshine. I collected my bag and finally found the person to show me which bus to take to the hotel. 2 hours later (due to the rush hour traffic in Seoul) I arrived at the massive Lotte World Hotel which is part of a massive shopping mall/ adventure theme park complex not to mention the 30+ floors of rooms which the hotel had. I checked in and met my roommate for the first time, Latif from Indonesia who was a pleasure to meet and work with during the tournament! Unfortunately, the first few days of the trip were public holidays in South Korea which meant that most of the shops and restaurants were closed/closed early which meant a quick meal after briefing and an early night before the real fun of the tournament began.
The first day of the tournament was then upon us but first and more importantly… breakfast! It was a fantastic breakfast, with foods from all over the world available. However, due to the public holiday the hotel was packed and so was breakfast. A queue had formed for breakfast which included several slightly worried looking umpires who needed to hurry to catch the 9am bus to the venue!
After making it to the venue, which was the Handball stadium within the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games Park, it was clear that the venue was not your average badminton venue, it was completely circular! After a mini-briefing, the games got underway with umpires switching courts using the rotation system. Following play on the 1st day, the Korean Deputy referee took us into the Lotte Shopping Mall adjoining our hotel for some Korean seafood which ranged from seafood soups to seafood pancakes, one of which I had containing octopus, squid and prawns along with a lot of spring onion!
The 2nd day of competition was the longest of the tournament as the main draw of the MS, WS, MD and WD started. Although it was planned to be the longest day, it was made even longer by putting me on the final match of the day which was bound to go the distance of 3 games. We eventually finished and managed to quickly grab some food in the Mall before it closed.
The 3rd day of competition was again a long day but less duties as we had started to reduce the number of courts being used. Lo and behold, I was again on the last match of the day and of course… we stayed behind to turn the lights out. However, tonight the Korean Umpires had organised for a Korean BBQ after play, so we went directly from the venue to a lovely Korean BBQ restaurant in the streets of Seoul. My first ever experience of a Korean BBQ and it did not disappoint along with being shown how to traditionally eat a Korean BBQ with sesame leaves, rice, radish and a couple of other treats which I have forgotten the names of. It was a fantastic meal which brought together all the referees, foreign and Korean umpires.
Friday was upon us… quarter finals… and on two courts! But first a BWF workshop in the morning which was presented by Carol Ui Fhearghail which lasted approximately 3-4 hours and was extremely useful. The workshop included a few scenarios which were debated as well as Carol showing us the BWF presentation on the role of the Umpire and Service Judge and what is expected of them. The Quarter-finals then got underway, with 19 umpires, everyone got 2-3 duties so there was a bit of waiting during the day. Luckily, my matches were early in the schedule which gave me and some others the chance to walk back to the hotel. On our way, we took a big detour through the Olympic Park which gave some very good photo opportunities. Then we headed through some old streets of Seoul which presented us with typical Korean streets filled with lights everywhere! Here we of course took more photos and found a place to eat some delicious Korean fried chicken.
Semi-finals day, at this point like at every other tournament, the time seemed to have flown by and before we knew it, it was nearly over. It was also quite a long day as 8 of the semi-finals were played on 1 court. I was assigned 2 duties with my Umpiring duty being on one of the Korean matches which was another great experience. Although the stadium wasn’t filled, the Korean fans who were there made plenty of noise and it was also a great match with some fantastic rallies. At the end of a day to say goodbye, the Korean Umpires again organised a chicken and beer party in the evening which is very popular in South Korea.
The morning of the finals everyone had to be at briefing at the venue as the event organisers had arranged a ceremony in order to thank the technical officials, during which, the president of the Korean Badminton Association handed each umpire a framed photograph of the group photo that had been taken earlier in the week. It was a lovely ceremony and a nice touch to finish the tournament on. Following the conclusion of the finals, some of the foreign umpires had organised a mini-sightseeing tour into the centre of Seoul. We took the metro and a bus from the hotel to the Namsan tower which is located at the top of a mountain just south of the historical city centre of Seoul. We managed to arrive at the tower around sunset which greeted us with magnificent dusk lit views of distant mountains above the bright lights of Seoul. After watching the sunset, we descended down into the Myeong-dong area of Seoul which is a famous shopping district. There were streets upon streets of lights, shops, market traders, restaurants and bars. Once everyone had bought as much as they could carry, we headed for the metro to take us back to the hotel.
The next morning, I had a leisurely breakfast, got the bus to the airport and then before I knew it, was back home. South Korea was a fantastic experience which I will never forget, not only did my badminton family increase in size, I have also made new friends for a lifetime. If given the same opportunity to go to South Korea again, I would jump at it and would urge anyone else to if they get the chance!