For many on the long road to Tokyo 2020, the postponed Paralympic Games would be worth the wait.
The arduous efforts of the Para badminton family came to fruition in October 2014 when it was announced the sport would be included at Tokyo 2020.
Jack Shephard (England)
World No.1 men’s singles, Short Stature (SH)
“It means a lot. I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to be able to compete at the Paralympics. It’s amazing Para badminton is now a Paralympic sport and a dream can come true.”
When badminton made its Olympic bow at Barcelona 1992, Para badminton was being played by a few enthusiasts for physical activity and others purely for the love of it.
In 1995, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, UK, Switzerland, Russia and Israel formed the International Badminton Association for the Disabled (IBAD). This allowed international competitions to be organised for athletes in the wheelchair, standing and sitting categories.
Three years later, the Netherlands hosted the first IBAD World Championships for Disabled. It included 50 players from Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Israel, Belgium and Russia.
While the sport was gaining ground around the world, Paul Kurzo and BWF’s then vice-president Torsten Berg worked to integrate IBAD with BWF, with the ultimate aim to become an International Paralympics Committee (IPC) member and a Paralympic sport.
Vice-President of Para badminton
“We had to overcome many challenges, mainly integration of the classification rules according to IPC standards, and integration and training of technical officials and classifiers into the organisation. Then we had to figure out how to bring together the national and continental members as many of them had separate organisations for different disabilities. We also had no money, so the work was done by volunteers.”
It was not until the early 2000s that clearer classification rules were formulated, resulting in categories for Wheelchair (WH), Standing Lower (SL), Standing Upper (SU) and Short Stature (SH).
With these new categories in place, in 2007, IBAD and BWF made the first attempt to join the Paralympics family but Para badminton was not included at the London 2012 Games.
Dr. Shamsul Azhar
BWF Chief Classifier
“There are many types of disabilities and impairments, and classification is a process that ensures fairness in Para sports. Classifiers examine, test and observe the athlete when they first appear in the competition and allocate them the correct class.”
A later bid to join the Rio 2016 Games also failed and the classification rules had to be redefined to meet IPC standards, because Para badminton had too many classes with too few athletes in each.
Dr. Silvia Albrecht
BWF Head of Classification
“We created new classification regulations and a system with less classes and clearly defined medical minimal impairment criteria for participation and each class.”
The developments in the new millennium also served to attract a larger group of players who began to recognise Para badminton as more than just a casual past time.
Korea’s Lee Sam Seop, who started playing in 2005, has several international titles in wheelchair men’s singles and doubles. Ma Hui Hui of China joined the national team as a teenager in 2006 and has a number of SL-SU women’s doubles medals with partner Cheng Hefang.
Karin Suter-Erath (Swizerland) and Henriette Koozs (Austria) started out playing wheelchair tennis and are now two of Europe’s more accomplished women’s singles and doubles players.
Head Referee for Tokyo 2020
“The level of play has increased, wheelchair badminton in particular has become so much more dynamic at the top level. IPC observed us at the 2013 World Para Badminton Championships in Dortmund and was impressed by the organisation, the presentation of the game and the atmosphere. I knew we had delivered our piece of the puzzle toward being included in Tokyo 2020.”
In September 2017, IPC announced a programme of 14 Para badminton events – seven men’s, six women’s and one mixed – for Tokyo 2020. A total of 90 players (46 men and 44 women) will compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles categories.
Realisation of a Dream
In SU5, Malaysia’s Cheah Liek Hou and Denmark’s Catherin Rosengren have held their own against able-bodied peers for years but an Olympic medal was always out of reach.
Cheah Liek Hou
World No.2 men’s singles SU5
“I’m excited (about the Paralympics) because I’ve been waiting for this for 12 years, since Beijing 2008.”
China have been a badminton force and are expected to dominate the Paralympics with youthful athletes such as 17-year-old WH2 women’s singles world champion Liu Yutong but Indonesia too have always been a badminton nation.
Leani Ratri Oktila (Indonesia)
World No.1 women’s singles SL4
“I’m playing in three categories (singles, doubles and mixed doubles). I’m challenging myself to win all three, and winning for my country motivates me more. Badminton at the Paralympics will also encourage many young Indonesians with disability to take this sport seriously.”
Tokyo 2020 for Para badminton is reward for years of blood, sweat and tears, not just for the athletes on court but also the whole Para badminton family who have rallied for this sport for almost three decades.
Kurzo: “A big dream of mine has come true and I’m pleased the Paralympics is now possible for all Para badminton players.”