The final qualifying event before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games gets underway tomorrow as the Spanish Para Badminton International 2021 begins and it’s shaping up to be a badminton bonanza.
There was relief and happiness as 157 players from 36 countries descended onto the maritime enclave town of Cartagena, greeted with sunshine and smiles from the Spanish Badminton Federation who are hosting the Para badminton event for the first time at Palacio de los Deportes de Cartagena.
It’s an exciting week ahead as top seeds like world No.6 men’s singles Wheelchair (WH 1) player from France, David Toupe takes centre stage, as does Switzerland’s Karin Suter-Erath (WH 1) and Indonesian women’s singles Leani Ratri Oktila, Standing Lower (SL 4) as they continue to gather points and match play in the run-up to the Tokyo Paralympics.
India were unable to travel to the qualifying event because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Also absent are China.
Korea have several strong names in the wheelchair events with players like Lee Dong Seop, Lee Sam Seop and Choi Jung Man all spearheading a strong field.
“I’m so, so glad to be here,” said BWF Head Referee Barbara Fryer ahead of the last qualifying event.
“I’ve not seen the Para athletes and my team for 18 months, I’ve missed them all and I can’t wait to get started on this fantastic event,” she added.
For some players, the events this week could mean treading the fine line between securing qualification for Tokyo 2020 Paralympics or not. There’s everything to play for. It also offers the opportunity for players to get that much- loved ‘on court’ feeling, assess the competition and be back in competition atmosphere.
Teams like Japan and Korea appear for the first time at an international event since the Peru Para Badminton International in February 2020,.The buzz and excitement in both camps is apparent as the teams vie for match-play and ranking points.
Israel’s Nina Gorodetzky and mixed doubles partner Amir Levi (WH1- WH2) are thrilled to be in Spain competing. Speaking to BWF ahead of a practice session before the tournament begins, Gorodetzky said: “I’m so happy to be here. I’m excited to get back onto court and start winning games. I’ve really missed competing. It’s also the first time I’ve been able to get a full night’s sleep as I have a five-month old baby.”
Without India’s Pramod Bhagat the Standing Lower SL3 champion, in Spain, this could be a golden opportunity for England’s Daniel Bethell to have a clear shot at a title while accumulating ranking points for Tokyo 2020.
COVID-19 protocols are in place for all players, entourage and staff attending the events with strict regulations on regular testing, wearing of face masks and social distancing enforced throughout the tournament to ensure the health and safety of all participants.
Badminton will make its Paralympic debut in Tokyo in September this year, offering 14 medal events.