Para badminton and its journey to the Paralympic Games 

Four-time Para badminton world champion KIM Jung Jun.
Four-time Para badminton world champion KIM Jung Jun.

As a former professional shuttler and current Para badminton coach, DONG Jiong knows exactly how challenging it is for players with impairment to compete on court.

“Para badminton players train in a way which is quite different from able-bodied players. While the able-bodied athletes can strengthen the cardiovascular system simply by running, players using a wheelchair have to train by moving and coordinating with the chair,” explained Dong.

Dong is an Olympic silver medalist and now serves as the head coach of China national Para badminton team.

Having witnessed the difficulties para shuttlers have to overcome, Dong believes the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will be a journey of passion and hope for the athletes, as Para badminton makes its Paralympic debut.

Chinese players QU Zimo and MAI Jianpeng at the 2019 BWF World Championships in Basel, Switzerland.
Chinese players QU Zimo and MAI Jianpeng at the 2019 BWF World Championships in Basel, Switzerland.

Known as the fastest racquet sport in the world, Para badminton has been contested internationally since the 1990s, with the first World Championships taking place in Amersfoort, Netherlands, in 1998.

Although the World Championships has taken place every two years since 2011, it was not until 2014 that the sport came to prominence. That year, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) selected the sport for Tokyo 2020 following a bid by the Badminton World Federation (BWF).

In an interview with Paralympic.org back in 2015, BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer Larsen said he was ecstatic at the successful bid for inclusion.

“This is historic and it will mean so much to the para-badminton community and the wider badminton family. We’re pleased our hard work over the past four years has resulted in this outcome and we’re excited about the future: further developing para-badminton and obviously working with IPC to prepare for Tokyo 2020,” he said.

Although Para badminton has many quality players from both Asia and Europe, Høyer believes that with the continual growth of the sport, nations that are new to the sport could emerge to challenge the more established countries.

Tokyo, JAPAN - 7 SEPTEMBER, 2017: The Hulic-Daihatsu Japan Para-Badminton International 2017 in Machida, Tokyo.
Tokyo, JAPAN - 7 SEPTEMBER, 2017: The Hulic-Daihatsu Japan Para-Badminton International 2017 in Machida, Tokyo.
Tokyo 2020 / Shugo TAKEMI

Fabrice Vallet, national Para badminton coach of France, said its inclusion has given a huge boost to badminton in the country. “I can see that a lot of players have improved their quantity of practice and the quality of training. The coaches are becoming more experienced,” he said in an interview with Badminton Europe in 2015.

The sport marked another milestone in 2019, when Para and able-bodied badminton World Championships were held jointly for the first time in in Basel, Switzerland. A record number of 298 para athletes from 41 nations participated.

Leani Ratri Oktila of Indonesia claimed her first singles world title at the 2019 BWF World Championships in Basel, Switzerland.
Leani Ratri Oktila of Indonesia claimed her first singles world title at the 2019 BWF World Championships in Basel, Switzerland.
Courtesy of BWF

“To see it go from quite a small scale - I remember we used to have European Championships and some tiny sports all in the middle of nowhere - to now being in 2019 alongside the able-bodied World Championships. It blows my mind to think how far the sport has come,” said British player Rachel Choong in an interview with BadmintonWorld.TV last year.

Choong competes in SH6 Women's Singles and is the first British shuttler to win triple golds at the World Para-Badminton Championships. She started playing badminton at the age of six, but said that she was disappointed when she was a junior. “I knew I could never be as good as other people who were my age, who were already like, a foot taller than me. I found it’s more and more difficult to compete with them,” she recalled. Later she was introduced to Para badminton, where she found her stage to shine.

At Tokyo 2020, a total of 90 players (46 men and 44 women) from six classes (two wheelchair classes and four standing classes) will compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles events.

The events will follow the rules of badminton except for minor modifications. All events use a “best of three games” format, each of 21 points. The height of the net is the same for all classes.

“It is the level of performance, inclusion of [a] wide range of impairments, equal gender participation, entertainment, audience and fans interest [and] widespread media coverage that will add a lot of value to the sport by being at the Paralympic Games,” said Manasi Joshi, winner of the singles SL3 at the 2019 Para World Badminton Champion.

Manasi Joshi picked up the singles gold in SL3 category at the 2019 BWF World Championships in Basel, Switzerland.
Manasi Joshi picked up the singles gold in SL3 category at the 2019 BWF World Championships in Basel, Switzerland.
BWF / Alan Spink

Four-time world champion KIM Jung Jun aims to secure top podium spots in the singles WH2 and the doubles WH1-WH2 on his Paralympic debut. But participation in the Games seems to weigh more than medals.

“Although I set my goal on medals, I’m already thrilled to be a part of the Paralympics. It is a great honour for me and I’m very happy for all Para badminton players,” he said in an interview with Paralympic.org.

Sport Explained: Para Badminton | Paralympic Games

However his opponent, Hong Kong’s Para badminton star CHAN Ho Yuen, keeps a watchful eye on him. Since Chan ended his seven-year winning streak at an international tournament in 2018, the two have battled for the top of the men’s WH2 category. With the Games now postponed, Chan told Paralympic.org that he has an extra year to improve.

During the pandemic, he even picked up a hobby that is somehow related to Kim - watching Korean drama shows.

“I told my coach that I watch Korean drama not only for entertainment (but as strategy) because my biggest opponent (Kim Jung Jun) is Korean, and if I learn the language, then I can understand what they are talking about during our matches,” he said.