Nozomi: Japan can still win a gold in Rio without Momota

Badminton - Yonex All England Open Badminton Championships - Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham - 13/3/16 Japan's Nozomi Okuhara celebrates victory in the women's singles final Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Boyers Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

SINGAPORE: Japan have an opportunity to win gold in badminton at the Rio Olympics, says All-England champion Nozomi Okuhara – a day after Japanese officials announced Kento Momota had been kicked off the team.

Okuhara, who is in the city-state for this week’s Singapore Open, did not take questions from reporters about the ban on compatriot and Rio medal hopeful Momota during a news conference.

But when asked in general about the Japanese team’s prospects, she replied through an interpreter: “There’s an opportunity for us to win a gold medal and I believe we can do it.”

Okuhara, 21, said team spirit was high in the camp.

Momota, who had been tipped for a medal in Rio, was expelled from the team for this summer’s Olympics for gambling at an illegal casino.

The Nippon Badminton Association threw the book at the 21-year-old world No. 2, banning him from competition indefinitely.

Team-mate Kenichi Tago, also found guilty of placing illegal bets, was removed from the organisation’s official player list for an indefinite period. Both Tago and Momota have withdrawn from the Singapore Open, organisers said.

Momota and Okuhara captured the men’s and women’s singles titles at the Superseries Finals in Dubai last December, firing a warning salvo at their Chinese compatriots who have long dominated the sport.

“The Japan team are getting better and more popular. Regular people are also getting more interested,” Okuhara said.

“Now that we are playing at the top level, we stimulate those at the junior level.” — AFP

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