EVERYONE deserves an opportunity to play badminton, no matter what their background or how limited their access to resources. That is the mantra behind the Asia Olympic Project (AOP), a programme to give players a platform to realise their dreams, says Badminton Asia’s senior manager of development, A. Thanabalan.
Q: What is your role and your vision for badminton?
A: As head of Badminton Asia’s development department, I plan and strategise the direction of the governing body’s development programmes and projects and oversee their running. I would love to see badminton at the same level as football, if not better. Another personal wish is to give back to Malaysia in terms of the development of badminton.
What is the Asia Olympic Project (AOP)?
The AOP is a quadrennial project which took off in 2016. This project was set up to support talented badminton players from under-resourced countries through Badminton Asia’s scholarships, training and tournament exposure so they can qualify for the Olympics. The results were evident in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Four women’s singles players from Asia’s developing countries (Vietnam’s Nguyen Thuy Linh, Myanmar’s Thae Htar Thuzar, Pakistan’s Mahoor Shahzad and Iran’s Soraya Hajiagha) qualified for the Olympics. Our aim for the 2024 Paris Olympics is for players from more countries to qualify. We want new flags like Nepal and Philippines in Olympics badminton as this will prove that we are doing a good job.
Can you describe the set-up of this project?
We have experienced coach and former player Datuk Rashid Sidek in our coaching team. He joined us last month. His appointment is a big boost for us as he has tactical knowledge and great skills. We also have former United States and Badminton New Zealand coaching and high performance director S. Mohan in our ranks. We are training players from Timor Leste, Iran, Nepal and Philippines who have won national championships in their countries.
What other projects are you looking at?
We are going to start a new programme to help players qualify and make the podium for the World Junior Championships. For this, we will be targeting players aged below 16. Hopefully, this programme can take off next year. Besides this, we are trying to start a centralised international training centre in January. This is to cater for players who cannot afford long-term training in their own countries. The centre will be in Cyberjaya or Nilai.
Can you share an unforgettable experience in your role?
My experience in Tajikistan was really exceptional. During my trip there this year, Badminton Asia’s development department provided basic playing equipment as per our normal practice but I was taken aback to see that kids who were part of the welcoming entourage, did not have shoes. This made me realise the dire needs of such countries in terms of attire, footwear, food and other necessities. Children should not be deprived of the opportunity to play badminton.