The Newest Event at the Paralympic Games – Badminton

History of the Paralympics

After World War II, a doctor by the name of Ludwig Guttman opened up a center for veterans with spinal injuries known as the Stoke Mandeville Hospital for the paralyzed.  The prognosis of these patients was bleak, but Guttman treated them unconventionally.  Part of their regular physical therapy involved modified competition sports such as archery, javelin, disc throwing, and fencing.  

In 1948, just 4 years after opening his center, Guttman held an official competition for the disabled veterans in his charge. He held the event on the day of the opening ceremonies for the summer Olympic games that year.  The competition was a success and was held every year after.  Four years later, Guttman’s patient-athletes were joined by a group of Dutch athletes, bringing an ‘international’ feel to the affair.

This was the birth of what was then called the Stoke Mandeville Games.  Each successive year, the games grew with new participating nations and athletes.  In 1960, what is now considered the first summer Paralympic games were held in Rome. Over 400 athletes were representing 23 countries competing in Rome that year.  They have been held every four years since then.  Winter Games were officially organized and held in Sweden in 1976, and have continued.

In 1989 the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) was formed as the global governing body of all categories of Paralympic sporting events.  The movement has been steadily growing and gaining ground since.  Sports of all kinds are being modified and added every four years, and athletes are finding pride and purpose in representing their countries in events across the spectrum.

Paralympics are now held in the same city and venue as the Olympic games. This seems fitting when dissecting the word Paralympics.  “Para” is derived from the Greek word meaning “alongside” and “-lympics” referring to the Olympic games.  Paralympics are played alongside the Olympics. 

Para-badminton – Ready for Tokyo

As a member of the IPC, the BWF values the true meaning of Paralympics being played alongside the Olympics by promoting a “one sport – one team” philosophy.  

Para-badminton athletes have been internationally competing since the 1990s.  There are Parapanamerican Games, Para-badminton World Championships, and multiple international competitions in between.  

The first para-badminton World Championships were held in the Netherlands in 1998, and the sport officially came under the governance of the BWF in 2011.  However, it wasn’t until the fall of 2014 that the IPC announced badminton would be making its official para debut at Tokyo in 2020.  This makes badminton one of 22 other medal sports included in the games currently.

Photo Credit: Agência Brasília Flickr via Compfight cc

Para-badminton has been separated into categories to create fair play and make the game accessible to all.  All athletes are separated into these categories before competing internationally.  Those six accessibility categories are:

  • WH1 (Wheelchair 1) – Players require a wheelchair and have impairment to both trunk and lower limb.
  • WH2 (Wheelchair 2) – Players require a wheelchair and have impairment to only lower limbs
  • SL3 (Standing Lower 3) – Players in this category must play standing, but may have impairment to lower limb(s) and poor balance when walking/running.
  • SL4 (Standing Lower 4) – Players in this category must also play standing but may have impairment to lower limbs and walking/running balance impairment that is of a lesser degree than those in SL3.
  • SU5 (Standing Upper 5) – Players in this category play standing but may have impairment to one or both upper limbs.
  • SH6 (Short Stature 6) – Players in this category have a shorter stature commonly associated with the genetic condition known as dwarfism.

Photo Credit: Agência Brasília Flickr via Compfight cc

Shuttlers have been working to qualify for the games. Wheelchair athletes have 6 medal events. Standing athletes have 7 medal events, and short stature athletes have 1 medal event.  Men’s singles will be played in all six accessibility categories.

After waiting almost two decades to see the sport of badminton officially included in the paralympic games, the unexpected disruption of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has made everyone nervous about what the future holds.  Though the Tokyo 2020 games were postponed until 2021, some health experts question whether the world will be ready for such a gathering, even then.

Para-badminton in the United States

Though it would be disappointing to all Paralympians aiming for Tokyo, it would be exceptionally disappointing for the game of badminton, as this was slated to be its first-ever participation. Adding badminton to the paralympic stage just brings an extra bit of notoriety to a sport that is battling image problems in some countries – specifically the United States.  

Photo by Titus Wincentsen on Unsplash

USA Para-badminton Association, headed up by Steve Kearney, is actively participating in outreach to rehab hospitals and veterans groups like Wounded Warrior to let athletes know that badminton is out there and available to them.  Trying to build a strong para-badminton team in the United States has proved to be a challenge, but there are definitely some shining stars.

The US Parabadminton Team is boasting some possible Olympic qualifiers in several events in Tokyo.  According to BWF’s current para-badminton rankings posted, USA’s Miles Krajewski is currently seventh in men’s singles in the SH6 accessibility category.  Adding to the celebration of his success is the fact that Miles is only 14 years old!  Katherine Valli is ranked second in women’s singles in the SH6 accessibility category and Jayci Simon sits at the number seven spot.  Both women represent the USA.  Both Krajewski and Valli are ranked well in doubles categories, and we are hopeful to see them compete in the Tokyo games.  

Our eyes will be on the podium in the summer of 2021 to see which flags fly for medals in this exciting new time for the sport of badminton.

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