“I’m a star!” shouts the overjoyed Abiba Bakayoko, an SH6 player from Ivory Coast.
She continues while holding back tears of joy: “The Female Participation Grant has changed my status in life. I never dreamt one day I’d board a plane. When I got the news, I invited all my friends and relatives to see me off at the airport.”
Bakayoko was among seven African athletes fully supported by the BWF Para Badminton Female Participation Grant at last month’s Uganda Para Badminton International and African Para Badminton Championships.
“I used to watch people play Para badminton and desired to join them but my parents prohibited me due to my size,” Bakayoko adds. “It was painful but our coach inspired me not to give up.
“After I joined Para badminton, the level of stigmatisation and discrimination due to my size and gender reduced. We are treated equally and given the same opportunities as our able-bodied counterparts. It goes a long way in boosting our confidence and morale.”
Accompanying Bakayoko from Ivory Coast, also supported by the grant, was the Master’s degree sociology student Maferiman Dosso.
“Unlike my colleagues, I’ve enjoyed moral support from family and friends on my journey as a person living with determination,” said the WH2 athlete. “I was introduced to Para badminton at the university by my coach, and I immediately fell in love.
“It hasn’t been easy to cater financially for my studies and maintain being a full-time athlete, so this opportunity to grow and improve my skills couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Since the inception in 2017 of the Female Participation Grant – aimed at giving opportunities for female athletes to apply for financial support to attend and be Internationally Classified at BWF-sanctioned tournaments annually – BWF has provided scholarships to over 70 players from more than 40 countries.
The uniquely named 18-year-old Central African Republic’s Ketsia Iman Cariane Kolika Ambare is another participant funded by the grant.
“I’ve gained a lot of skills and experience from this support,” said Ambare of the grant that supports BWF’s goal of increasing female participation in Para badminton across all classes.
“I was introduced to Para badminton by a stranger on the streets. I saved his number and forgot about it. A few months later, I came across the number on my phone and decided to call him. Little did I know this was fate. I met my best friend in the team who incidentally has a similar disability, and we are now known as twins.
“My dream is to be the first Central African to win a medal in Para badminton.”
Another recipient, WH1 player Wivine Moyo Bangudulu, a fishmonger in Kinshasa and former Para basketball player, says: “I was earmarked for this support last year, but I had just given birth, so I couldn’t participate.
“Thanks to BWF, we can access such funding, which is encouraging the participation of women in Para badminton.”