The Para badminton fraternity was overjoyed with BWF’s announcement of the first tournament back – the Sheikh Hamdan bin Al Rashid Maktoum Dubai Para Badminton International 2021 (30 March to 4 April).
More than 130 players from 27 countries returned to the courts at the Shahab Al Ahli Stadium in Dubai, a familiar venue to many.
Since 1 January 2019, players have earned points at BWF sanctioned tournaments to place themselves in the Race to Tokyo rankings, until COVID-19 put all events on hold last year.
There were no Paralympic qualifying points to be earned in Dubai, but the tournament served as a positive step for a return to competition.
“Everything looks professionally organised, it almost feels normal. I don’t feel stressed to be back,” said France’s David Toupe.
A disciplined adherence to social distancing and safety rules allowed players to feel comfortable and safe, and to focus on the competition.
There was a heightened level of play all around, with even the lower ranked athletes out to impress.
There were the usual big winners.
India bagged 21 medals – five gold, six silver and 10 bronze, while France took home four gold, two silver and three bronze.
There were a few who were surprised by their own achievements.
Ukraine’s Oksana Kozyna could not believe she won gold against SL3 world champion Manasi Girishchandra Joshi (India), while Malaysian WH1 and WH2 men’s singles winners Muhammad Ikhwan Ramli and Noor Azwan Noorlan were overjoyed with their men’s singles gold and men’s doubles bronze medals.
“I never expected to get even to quarterfinals. The night before my finals, I ate well, hydrated, slept early. Then I woke up, showered, and prayed. I prayed a lot,” said Noorlan.
Communication was also a key factor in many of the victorious doubles partnerships.
“He understands English and replies in Hindi. I speak a little English and can say ‘Shukriya’ (Thank You) in Hindi, but we manage,” said Russian Tatiana Gureeva who took the WH1-WH2 mixed doubles gold with India’s Prem Kumar Ale.
Gureeva also won the women’s WH2 singles.
The Dubai event was also an opportunity for first timers to show their mettle.
“It’s such a good eye-opener for our team, to play in their first international event, learn from other coaches and players, and see how tournaments are organised,” said Edwin Muruah Mwangi of team Kenya.
With only one more tournament for a chance to earn Paralympic qualifying points – the Spanish Para Badminton International (10-16 May) – Dubai was an opportunity for overall evaluation.
Referee Julien Nys (Belgium) summed it up.
“There was excitement all around. Not just the players but officials too, and the organisers have done well to ensure this event ran smoothly. There are many learning points we can take to the next tournaments but it’s been a good week.”