We spoke to Emma Mason, a former top player from Scotland and BEC Commission Member since 2015 about her achievements, plans and personal goals in life.
BEC: How did you start playing badminton and why did you find it more interesting than other sports?
Emma Mason: I started playing badminton in primary school as my mum had volunteered to run the after school club. I was 10 years old. At the time, I found it more interesting than other sports because a boy I liked played badminton too. I’m not sure he ever found that out, I was quite shy back then!
BEC: What did badminton give you that other sports couldn’t have given?
Emma Mason: I am obviously biased, but I believe badminton is a fantastic sport that can give an individual so many positive experiences. Amongst other things, badminton has given me the opportunity to compete (and occasionally win) against some incredible athletes, to travel and build friendships across the world and to develop a skill set that has helped me transition into my current career. Having never been involved in another sport to international level, it is not for me to say whether or not another sport could do the same for others. However, what I can say is that, in many ways, I feel indebted to the sport (I certainly wouldn’t have my current career without it) and I hope to be able to give back to badminton throughout the rest of my life.
BEC: What was the most challenging situation during your career as a professional badminton player? And how did you handle it, what made you keep going?
Emma Mason: In 2008, I snapped my left Achilles tendon during a match at the Portuguese Open. When the injury happened I went through the same though process every athlete does: is this it? Is my career over? What do I do now?
However, after I was flown home to the UK and had my surgery I realized that I still wanted to play badminton. I knew that, even though it would take a long time to recover, I wanted to get back and to play for my country again. The recovery process was a very challenging time. I wasn’t able to walk until 8 weeks after my operation and when my cast came off I had severe muscle wastage on my left leg. I looked like I had one chicken leg! It was also quite a lonely process as I was separated from my squad mates and went through a tough rehabilitation programme for 6 months mostly alone with my physiotherapist. Despite this, throughout my recovery I used the fact that I wanted to play for Scotland in the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games as motivation and I kept visualizing stepping on court in India. It took me a year to play my first competitive match and shortly after I played for Scotland in the Sudirman Cup in China.
The recovery process I went through showed me the mental strength I had and gave me a greater level of confidence in myself than I’d ever had before my injury. It is undoubtedly true that going through my injury was, ironically, one of the most important things that happened to me and the skill set I developed during that time has helped me make the transfer into my current career.
BEC: What was your achievement as a Chair of the BWF Athletes Commission that you are the most proud of?
Emma Mason: There were many things that happened during my term that I was proud to be a part of, but I would single out the following two achievements:
First, as a Chair I was committed to using our social media presence to increase communication between the Athletes Commission and the players. It is not an easy job to communicate effectively with players from across 5 Continental Confederations and 183 Member Associations, but the accessibility and increasing use of social media definitely helps. The increase in communication was very important in allowing the Athletes Commission to obtain feedback from a range of players on the proposed change to the scoring system in 2014.
Second, I have always been proud that I was the first female Chair of the BWF Athletes Commission. I hope that I have shown other female athletes that it is an interesting and rewarding role to have and I was very pleased to see that so many great female candidates put themselves forward for the inaugural BEC Athletes Commission. It is such a positive sign and I look forward to seeing some of these females become a part of governing our sport in future.
BEC: What are your aims as a “politician” in badminton in the future?
Emma Mason: Since finishing my term on the World Badminton Federation’s Council, I have taken some time to work on my new legal career and to gain experience from working in other sports namely showjumping (equestrian) and triathlon. I have also continued to work in badminton through my membership of two of BEC’s Commissions.
I am now at a stage where I would like to come back to badminton in an increased capacity and to make use of my new knowledge and developed skill set. I am particularly interested in the growing commercial opportunities for our sport across the globe and in maintaining and improving upon European player development and performance at elite level.
In future I am currently focused on what I can do to improve our sport within Europe.
BEC: Have you ever been in an obviously disadvantageous situation – in badminton or in your private/professional life – only because of your gender? What was the situation and how did you handle it?
Emma Mason: The short answer to this is no. My personal attitude is that it doesn’t matter whether I am a woman or a man. I believe in a meritocratic society: if I am the best person for a job then I expect to be given it; if I am not the best person for the job then I do not want to be given it simply because I am a woman.
However, I appreciate that I am lucky to be working at a time where people recognize that women are just as capable and as deserving of opportunities as men. I have been encouraged in sport, in sport ‘politics’ and in my legal career by men and women equally and for that I am grateful.
Sport (and wider society) has not always treated women in this way and it is very important to recognize that even now there are still many people who (and many organizations and countries that) are, for a variety of reasons whether it be cultural, personal or environmental, still believe it is acceptable to discriminate against a woman simply because of her sex.
I am proud to be a part of a sport that offers equal prize money for men and women. However, we still have an underrepresentation of women in our coaching, management and leadership positions. For this reason, I have welcomed and supported the emergence of the gender equality movement in badminton and the work that it has done to raise the profile of and to improve opportunities for women within our sport.
BEC: What is your advice to other women who would like to remain in badminton after retiring as a player?
Emma Mason: My first piece of advice would be take your time to think about how you would like to be involved after you retire. For example, on the one hand I was very clear that I knew I wanted to give back and contribute to my sport but on the other knew I did not want to be involved as a coach. It took a while for me to work out that sports governance or ‘politics’ was where I felt my skill set would be best exploited and, luckily enough for me, it was also an area I really enjoyed.
My second piece of advice would be to then make yourself and your interest known. My experience as a former member of the Badminton World Federation’s Council and now as a Commission Member of Badminton Europe has been that sport-governing bodies are crying out for passionate, intelligent and motivated women to join their organizations in a variety of capacities. As a part of your retirement process or after you have retired, make contact with your governing body, your National Olympic Committee or your Continental Confederation, let them know of your interest and ask them what opportunities are available. Don’t be disheartened if there are no opportunities available. In my experience, people do not forget good, motivated candidates and the next time an opportunity arises your name will be at the forefront of their minds.
My third piece of advice would be to recognize from the offset that giving back to your sport takes time and commitment but that, in my opinion, when you are a part of a process that is working to improve your sport it is time well spent and a very fulfilling role.
BEC: Is there a woman who you look up and who inspires you?
Emma Mason: There are many incredible women working in sport who have inspired me and who I look up to including, Claudia Bokel (Chair of the IOC Athletes Commission), Liz Nicholl (Chief Executive of UK Sport) and Baroness Brady (Vice-Chair at West Ham Football Club in The FA’s Premier League). Additionally, I think that as a female working within European badminton I would be remiss not to mention the achievements of Gisela Hoffmann (former General Secretary of Badminton Europe) and Anne Smillie (the current Chief Executive of Badminton Scotland) who are both clear examples of females who have successfully help long-term leadership positions in our sport and who ought to serve as inspiration to any young female administrators in badminton. There is a common theme that runs through all women (and men) who inspire me – they are all exceptionally ambitious, dedicated and successful, but they are also personable and supportive of other people’s achievements. I believe it is important that young women (and men) see that being ambitious and successful does not mean that you have to lose your sense of humanity or humility.
BEC: You work as a solicitor at a prominent Law Firm in the UK, besides this you do a lot of voluntary work at different organizations (Member of British Triathlon Federation’s Audit and Governance Committee, Member of British Showjumping Disciplinary Panel, Contributor to the LawInSport, etc.). How can you coordinate between these responsibilities? And what do you do in your free time if you have such thing at all, what are your hobbies?
Emma Mason: This is a question I get asked by many people and I tend to give the same, simple answer: when you believe in something you will make time for it. As I have mentioned, I feel indebted to badminton and believe that it has opened so many doors for me. To me, badminton and, as a wider concept, sport is an incredibly important part of modern society and one that offers so many benefits. For those reasons, I will always be prepared to commit time and effort to ensuring that sport maintains its status and to make it available and accessible to as many people as possible. However, I will say that combining all these responsibilities has meant I have developed very good time management skills!
In my free time I am like any young person living in London, I love to go out and see my friends and explore the city. In the legal industry you tend to work very long hours, but London also has some of the best restaurants and bars in the world so late nights can actually be very fun. I also love (!) to ski and together with one of my good friends I’m training for my second marathon in May this year.