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Best of the best players invade Nigeria for Lagos International Badminton Classics

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Once again, the Teslim Balogun Stadium’s  Molade Okoya Thomas Indoor Hall goes agog again as the best badminton players all over the world congregate there next week.

They are a total of 108 foreign players from over 35 countries and will be joined by 43 Nigerian players who will jostle for podium finish as well as gathering points to aid their entries for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

It looks a renewed vigour after a two-year hiatus caused mainly by the Covid-19 pandemic and logistical issues. And so, the rackets will once again go up to smash the shuttles when the sixth edition of the Lagos International Badminton Classics – the biggest and best in Africa – gets underway from 30 August to 2 September.

According to Francis Orbih, president of the Badminton Federation of Nigeria (BFN) and council member of the continental body, BCA, 37 countries as at last Friday, have confirmed entry.

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“More are expected this week,” the Badminton Confederation of Africa remarked last Friday. Among the 37 countries so far entered are some from the top league of badminton circuit. In alphabetical order, they include:

Algeria, Azerbaijan, Australia, Austria, Benin Republic, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada and Czech Republic.

The other countries include England, Equatorial Guinea, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Mauritius, and Norway.

Also jostling for the biggest prize obtainable in any tournament in Africa are players from  Nigeria, Peru, Sri Lanka, Spain, South Africa, Slovakia, Slovenia, Togo, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, USA and Zambia.

Ambassadors of different countries whose players will be participating are expected to be in attendance together with a the badminton loving governors of Kebbi, Ekiti and Ebonyi states who will all add glamour to the Classics.

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The Lagos Classics has been variously described as the highest category of Badminton World Federation-sanctioned championship to be hosted by any African Country.

The rating of the Classics also affords the participants, including Nigerian players, the opportunity to garner points towards qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympics as well as improve their BWF World ranking.

Mr Orbih expressed happiness that the competition is staging a big comeback after being off the calendar for 3 years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its after effects.

“We are glad the biggest and flagship event in the African Badminton circuit is back,” the President said.

Orbih thanked the Lagos State Government, especially Governor Babajide Sanwo Olu for sustaining Lagos State’s support and sponsorship of the event calling on other States to emulate the gesture.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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How a refugee fled Iran for her love of badminton

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Dorsa Yavarivafa, badminton player selected to represent the IOC Refugee Olympic Team in the Paris 2024 games, poses for portraits in London, Britain, May 21, 2024. REUTERS/Chris J. Ratcliffe

On a rainy November morning in 2018, 15-year-old Dorsa Yavarivafa and her mother left Tehran for Turkey with fake German passports – the first thing she grabbed when she was told they were leaving at 4 a.m. was her badminton bag.

The pair flew a month later to Germany, then to Belgium and eventually to France. Yavarivafa would be jailed three times — once entirely alone for a day, crying and taken from her mother — before she made it to Birmingham, England at the end of 2019 and finally found a home.

She said she fled her country for two reasons: her mother wanted to change her religion and Yavarivafa had repeatedly been rejected by the national badminton team without being told why.

“I was really scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen to me,” said Yavarivafa, who will turn 21 in July while competing at the Paris 2024 Games as part of the largest refugee Olympic team to date, with 36 athletes from 11 countries.

“I didn’t know where I was going. My mum just said we were going to go to another country, but she never told me how or where,” Yavarivafa added.

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“It was all worth it. Now, that I think back about it — all that suffering is over so I’m really happy now.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced its first refugee team at the Rio 2016 Games with 10 athletes to raise awareness of the issue as hundreds of thousands of people were pouring into Europe from the Middle East and elsewhere escaping conflict and poverty.

“(My parents) were really proud when we heard that I got accepted,” Yavarivafa said. “We were all crying… just really a relief, a relief of anxiety.”

Yavarivafa was introduced to the sport by her father, who sells car parts and stayed in Iran in case his wife and daughter needed to go back.

“He did come here about six months ago. That’s where I saw him after five years,” she said. “It was such an emotional moment — saw him in the airport, crying with excitement.”

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Yavarivafa has been playing badminton for a decade, but began training seriously when she was 11-years-old.

“I started to win a lot of tournaments in Iran,” Yavarivafa said. “That’s where I took it seriously and I watched a lot of badminton. I got inspired by a lot of people – one of them is (Spain’s) Carolina Marin.”

Yavarivafa said her former coach put her in touch with Beijing 2008 Olympian Kaveh Mehrabi of Iran, who helped her apply to be a part of the Refugee Athlete Scholarship programme.

The 20-year-old is now studying sports and exercise science at Middlesex University in London and trains three times a week at the Sankey Academy, an independent badminton club in Milton Keynes.

Yavarivafa hopes to “get a lot of experience” in Paris and talk to her idols, including Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallist Marin, who beat India’s PV Sindhu 19-21 21-12 21-15. Marin had to pull out of the Tokyo 2020 Games after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

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When asked what it meant to be part of the refugee team, Yavarivafa said she has a message for the world’s 100 million refugees: “You’re not alone… It doesn’t matter where you come from. Doesn’t matter where are you living now, dreams come true.”

“Not many people look at us as a normal people,” Yavarivafa added. “We are normal. We are normal people like everyone else.”

-Reuters

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Two Nigerians pick Paris 2024 Paralympics tickets in para badminton

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The duo of Mariam Eniola Bolaji and Jeremiah Chigozie have qualified for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games coming up from 28th August to 8th September.

According to the Badminton World Federation, Multiple African Champion, Mariam Bolaji will represent Nigeria in the Women’s Singles Standing Lower 3 (SL3) while Jeremiah Chigozie represents Nigeria in the Men’s Singles Standing Lower 4 (SL4).

An elated Francis Orbih, President of Badminton Federation of Nigeria said the qualification of Mariam Bolaji and Jeremiah Chigozie is a testimony of hard work, consistency and perseverance.

Orbih who was full of joy revealed that Nigeria stands a good chance to make history by winning medals in para badminton in her debut appearance.

He said, “Today, history has been made as two players for the first time will be representing Nigeria in the para badminton event at the Paralympic Games. I am full of joy because the sacrifices of the players and the Federation were not in vain.

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“Mariam Bolaji and Jeremiah Chigozie have consistently attended the African Championship winning gold medals in the singles and doubles events. Last month, Mariam Bolaji won two gold medals at the Spanish Internationals in Victoria and Toledo putting her in a better position to make it to the Paralympics; which has become a reality.

“With adequate camping, foreign tours and proper funding, I believe Nigeria will win a medal in the Para Badminton event when we make our debut this year”.

Orbih once again, called on well meaning individuals to support the Badminton Federation of Nigeria in ensuring the athletes get maximum support ahead of the Olympic/Paralympic Games in Paris next August.

He said, “I will not get tired of calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria and the private sector to key into our brand and give more support to the Badminton Federation of Nigeria. We have athletes who are marketable and will sell their brands to the world with their sterling performances”.

Mariam Eniola Bolaji shocked the world by winning her first gold medal at the Spanish Para badminton International 2021 beating Oksana Kozyna from Ukraine.

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Bolaji won the women’s singles SL3 at the Uganda Para Badminton International 2023, All African Para Badminton Championship 2023 (Doubles and Mixed Doubles).

She won gold medals at the 5th Fazza Dubai Para Badminton International 2023, Egypt Para Badminton International 2024, World Para Badminton Championship 2024 in Thailand and Spanish Para Badminton International 2024.

Bolaji is also the first African player to be ranked among the top 10 in the BWF world rankings as she is currently ranked number 5 in the world.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Chigozie won bronze medal at the Uganda Para Badminton International 2023 and three gold medals at African Para Badminton Championship 2023

He played a lesser number of championships compared to Eniola; playing in Egypt, Dubai, and World Championship in Thailand.

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Chigozie got to the quarter finals in the men’s singles SL4 category in Thailand and currently ranked number 16 in the recent BWF para Badminton ranking.

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Badminton gospel spreads to Nigeria Middle Belt region as Makurdi takes its turn

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Badminton Federation of Nigeria (BFN) in conjunction with its partner, Community Sport and Educational Development (CSED) Initiative, has organized a three-day Shuttle Time Teachers Course at Markurdi, Benue State.

The course ran from 25th and 27th of April, 2024.

Twenty four teachers and games masters as well as mistresses participated in the course that involved 18 schools and 75 students.

The three-day training involved both the practical and theory aspects of badminton skills which were taught by the Coordinator and Tutor of the course, Suleiman Tajudeen.

The teachers in turn  taught the students what they learnt and this was used as a means of assessment.

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As it had always been, the participating schools were given Badminton equipment such as rackets, badminton nets and shuttles courtesy of CSED as a support to the schools.

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