That badminton – and indeed Para badminton – has been gaining popularity around the world is no secret. The sport has evolved from the familiar bastions of Asia and parts of Europe and has been recently spreading to a much wider audience, proof that the sport is getting the attention and popularity it so richly deserves.
One of the examples is the representation the HULIC DAIHATSU BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2022 has had from players representing their countries for the first time in the event’s history.
Ivory Coast’s Deada Jean Yves Yao is aware of that fact, but he is rather nonplussed about it.
“It’s okay,” Yao says. “I feel very normal about it (being the first Ivorian to play at the BWF Para Badminton World Championships). When people go through situations like mine, it makes people like me come to badminton. I hope I can inspire more people to take it up.”
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The Ivorian endured a difficult time on court against Scotland’s Colin Leslie in the early hours of Day 1 competition in men’s singles standing lower SL3, losing in straight games. But he hasn’t lost sight of where the sport has taken him since he took it up at the insistence of coach Christian Poute.
“I took up swimming with my coach to learn about being a lifeguard,” Yao says. “But my coach told me to come to play badminton with him. ‘If you play badminton, I will teach you swimming,’ was his condition. My coach wanted to bring me into badminton, but I didn’t want to. In 2019, I went to him again to learn to swim. But my coach asked me to try badminton first.
“I would play badminton all week, and one day on the weekend he would train me in swimming.”
Yao’s unique style due to his disability has been developed partly because of skill, and in part due to adversity.
“I didn’t have the resources to afford a wheelchair or crutches when I was little, and as a result, it made my leg strong,” he says. “I use my small leg to pivot and stabilise when I move around the court.”
For Argentina’s Karina Loyola, just making it to Japan was the first hurdle towards representing her country for the first time.
“It was a very expensive trip for me, I had to put together a lot of money and I was worried if I would be able to make it, but I’m here now,” Loyola says. “I was able to collect the money needed to travel from sponsors and from the people of Argentina.”
Loyola was referring to a crowdfunding campaign she began to collect enough money to be able to travel for the BWF Para Badminton World Championships.
Loyola looks up to fellow South American star, Peru’s world No. 1 Giuliana Poveda, who she incidentally lost her second game of the day to in the women’s short stature SH6 singles. Vitor Tavares of Brazil is another player she admires.
The 33-year-old from the southern mountain town of Bariloche says she will take back this experience to put it into play in the continental events that follow.
“There are more tournaments coming up. The Pan American Championships in Cali (Colombia), and then the next open in Peru, and the following South American Games in Peru as well,” she says. “I’m happy I have more competitions to take part in very soon.
“I want to enjoy my experience of being here, and collect the points I need to be able to qualify for the Pan American Games in Santiago 2023.”
Mexico’s three players taking part in Tokyo also have reasons to rejoice, as summed up by Joaquin Isaac Palma Pineiro, but he is keeping his targets realistic.
“My first goal is to win at least a game and go further than the first round,” Pineiro says.
Pineiro has the experience of playing multiple sports such as wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball and shooting, and at least two of those sports have helped him sharpen his skills.
“Basketball and tennis help a lot in my reaction and movements,” he says.
While the government worker from Mexico says he was “nervous and tired” before his opening game on Tuesday, but there is a sense of pride for being the first national team to play at a BWF Para Badminton World Championships.
“It feels great (to be playing in front of fans) because in Mexico there’s not much awareness about most sports (other than football). So, it is nice to see and know there is awareness and support for para badminton here (in Japan).”