Worlds apart in Australia and France, they began their badminton journeys in the same era and progressed to the highest levels as technical officials.
Last month, their worlds came together at a brief ceremony during the YONEX French Open 2016 tournament as Ernest Robinson and Jane Wheatley were saluted by their peers and friends in the badminton family.
Robinson received his BWF Distinguished Service Award while his Australian counterpart, Wheatley, was showered with gifts and well wishes to salute her imminent retirement as a BWF Certificated Referee; the YONEX French Open being her last tour of duty.
“It’s been great. There have been so many wonderful experiences and people I have met over the years; the players, coaches, people who work for the local associations, BWF staff.
“I am really happy to retire here at the French Open. I love this event. There’s a close-knit, intimate feeling here that I have always enjoyed,” said 65-year-old Wheatley, amid congratulations and toasts from officials, including BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer and President of the French Badminton Federation (FFBaD) Richard Rémaud.
Having started playing badminton in 1978, Wheatley turned her attention to officiating later and worked her way up as a technical official, becoming a BWF Referee in 2005 and achieving certification six years afterwards. While she cited “getting to know all the people who work on the tournament circuit” as what she treasures most about her stint, undoubtedly one of the highlights was serving as Deputy Referee for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Though likely to remain close to badminton, Wheatley laughed and revealed her next major assignment will be far removed from the sport. This grandmother of seven is looking forward to camping with her grandchildren at Christmas.
Meanwhile, Robinson, too, underlined the importance of good teamwork and camaraderie, going so far as to stress he would not have been successful in his officiating career but for all the help, advice and support from his peers and, of course, his family.
“Badminton is like one big family,” declared the England-born Frenchman. “One can’t manage without help and cooperation of everyone; players, organisers, federations, technical officials, sponsors and a lot of invisible staff who do a lot of hard work.
“I am very proud of this award and I’m thankful for all the help I got throughout the years. Thanks to the BWF, the French Badminton Federation, my colleagues and to my family, especially my wife, Hélène.”
The 66-year-old, among BWF’s top honourees for 2015, discovered badminton in 1975 when his wife – who was among France’s top players – declared “we have to do some sport”.
“I was never a good player so I went into officiating,” he said, succinctly explaining his path into the realm of technical officials.
Robinson became a BWF Accredited Referee in 2000 and graduated to a BWF Certificated Referee in 2009. He finished his refereeing career at last December’s Dubai World Superseries Finals and is now a BWF Referee Assessor.