Suriname, formerly known as Dutch Guiana, is one of the smaller countries in South America and home to Para badminton player, umpire and medical student Brian Lesley Kliwon.
“I have always been a badminton player first, then a badminton umpire and finally a Para badminton player,” says the 40-year-old.
He is also a medical student in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname.
“I wanted to be surgeon but realised that because of my disability, the long hours of standing at the operating table causes severe backache. So, I’ve decided to become a general physician.”
Kliwon started playing badminton at the age of six and two years later joined a club with his brother.
“I did it because it was fun but I got better at it so I kept going. My first coach Kenneth Kershout was the one to who taught me to never give up.”
Now, any free time away from medical school is spent on umpiring duties and coaching able-bodied players.
Kliwon found himself following an umpire course in 1998, when Suriname was preparing to host its first international tournament. For the tournaments after that, he was asked to recruit and train local umpires and line judges. Then in 2010, he was nominated to officiate at the PanAm Junior Championships in the Dominican Republic.
“I didn’t know there was to be a written and a practical exam. So as soon as I arrived, I studied hard and gave it my all on court because I didn’t want to fail. At the end of that tournament, I became an accredited PanAm umpire.”
Several other assignments followed, and in 2014 at the PanAm Junior Championships in Guatemala, he became a certified PanAm Badminton Umpire.
“It was here that I attended a Para badminton meeting and was told I should try playing in tournaments.”
Kliwon first represented Suriname at the PanAm Para Badminton Championships 2014 in Havana, Cuba.
“Then, around 2016 or 2017, I became an accredited BWF umpire.”
Kliwon is currently one of only six accredited BWF umpires from Pan America but always sees himself as a player first.
“Whenever I get a chance, you’ll find me on or near a court, playing or coaching. Being an umpire has helped me become a better player because of my knowledge and understanding of the laws of badminton. It allows me to educate other players in my country.
“A lot of international players, whether juniors or seniors, don’t seem to fully understand the laws of badminton. This is a real shame because it has often led to unnecessary conflicts on the court.”
While as a player Kliwon is at ease playing men’s singles and men’s doubles Standing Upper (SU5) category, umpiring has presented some challenges which may not have occurred to his peers before he joined the ranks.
“Calling the referee and issuing a card has to be done with the right hand raised above the head but the disability in my right arm doesn’t allow me to lift it up higher than my nose. I have to do it with my left hand.
“On a court with IRS, raising the left hand means a challenge or review. So, it’s important to let all the referees know about my disability before a tournament starts so that everybody is aware of what to do when they see me raising my (left) hand.”
Another issue he has faced, and overcome, is the scorepad.
“The scorepad is on the right. I tried once to use my right hand to operate the pad. I accidentally screwed up the scores. I’ve been using my left hand since.”
But sometimes, it is the simplest matters that get to him.
“Some of the player names are difficult to pronounce. Real tongue twisters, but I manage.”
These challenges, however, will not stand in the way of his ambitions.
“From the moment I became an umpire, I’ve wanted to officiate at an Olympics. I’m not sure if my disability is an issue but I know I need more experience and have a long way to go. Sometimes, I wonder what I’m doing this for but I have to believe I can achieve this higher goal. It will be a big boost for my country.”