Prominent among those confident of achieving glory for Africa at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics is Nigeria’s Rafiu Oyebanji Bello.
The Standing Lower (SL 4) player, a triple gold medallist at the African Para-Badminton Championships last year, is determined to make history for his country and continent at the Paralympics.
“My ambition is very wide. I want to be at the Paralympics and win a medal, it will be good for Africa and Nigeria,” said Bello, during the Uganda Para-Badminton International 2019 last week.
In Kampala, Bello made the quarterfinals of his three events, in singles, men’s doubles (with Gbenga Sunday Olanipekun) and mixed doubles (with Chinyere Lucky Okoro).
Bello started playing badminton with able-bodied participants 15 years ago, and then decided to take up coaching.
“We had the first National Para badminton tournament in 2014. I did not play because my level was beyond them (other competitors). I used to train players,” said Bello.
It was only three years later that he decided to participate in competitions – and he was immediately successful.
“I have been able to achieve because of my involvement with able-bodied players. I was coaching even when I wasn’t playing Para badminton, so that helped me catch up quickly.
“At my first Para badminton international tournament, I got two bronze – in singles and doubles. So it was something to go back home and tell the government that this sport is coming up.
“The awareness was increasing. I was able to come back last year for the Uganda International, where I won two silver and a bronze, and the first Africa Championships, where I won three gold. That made me so happy. I got more ambition, that I wished to play in the Olympics, make my country proud and make Africa proud.”
With his eye on Tokyo, Bello has been working hard at training, despite his coaching commitments.
“I train my players in the morning and start my personal training after two to three hours. It has been my greatest dream (to qualify for Tokyo). I am seriously working towards it. My major challenge is sponsorship. I believe the sponsorship will come in the nick of time. Physically and technically I’ve been working hard.
“I want to make history in Tokyo.”
Good luck, Bello!