There are 191 athletes from 69 countries playing on 11 courts over seven days, but it is a single word which comes to encapsulate everything good about badminton at the Berlin 2023 Special Olympics World Games: inclusion.
From SO Chair Tim Shriver and towering NBA star Tony Snell helping Berlin kids hit their first shuttles at the Young Athletes Programme, to former world No.1 Peter Gade and European champion Marc Zwiebler mixing it with the best Special Olympic badminton players in the world, everyone could find their place.
“This is a great week for the sport of badminton,” BWF Deputy President KhunyingPatama Leeswadtrakul said at the vast Messe venue on the western fringes of Berlin.
“It’s my first time at the Special Olympics World Games and I’m delighted to play a part in promoting this event and to celebrate the inclusivity of our sport.”
One of five International Olympic Committee (IOC) members at Berlin 2023, Leeswadtrakul believes badminton is the best sport for improving physical and mental health.
“According to the vision of BWF, this is a great opportunity for badminton to create concrete actions and examples of how we are developing everyone and making this sport accessible for all, including those with special abilities.
“To have Peter and Marc here as our ambassadors is remarkable. They create more awareness and popularity of badminton among Special Olympics globally. With them we can help make this event more memorable.”
Always at the forefront of innovation, badminton is one of 16 sports to host Unified Experiences in Berlin, where SO athletes partner regular players and global ambassadors drawn from a range of Olympic sports.
Apolo Ohno, an eight-time Olympic medallist in short track speed skating, said: “Unified experiences like this are just an amazing way to connect and share what the joy of sport really represents.”
The Unified Sports Experience also gave Leeswadtrakul a chance to display the racket skills she hones “about once a week” at home in Thailand.
“I feel honoured to play with the Special Olympic athletes, I had a lot of fun and will keep these memories forever,” she said.
The informal Unified fun carried over into competition, when badminton again led the way by fielding a Special Olympic athlete, a Para athlete and a unified partner on court at the same time.
Jamaican Para athlete Travis Ebanks, a gold medallist from the Abu Dhabi 2019 World Games, was delighted to have won his first match as the unified partner of Kile Ford.
He said: “Badminton can unify individuals from different backgrounds. The spirit badminton brings about when you are playing the game is just beautiful.”
BWF and Special Olympics signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2019 which formalised their partnership and paved the way for a new badminton development strategy through to the end of 2024.
“We’ve signed (other) MoUs at an international level and they didn’t go very much further, but when you get an opportunity with a governing body like badminton’s, you really see the results,” Special Olympics CEO Mary Davis told a Berlin 2023 panel discussion.
“Already we can see the expansion of badminton and the numbers that are participating through the strategy that has been put in place.”
Leeswadtrakul added: “Because of the MoU, the relationship between the two organisations continues to grow efficiently. We will continue to work harder and more diligently to make this sport more accessible, especially to those athletes from the Special Olympics, through our Shuttle Time projects and so many other programmes we have set through Sport For All.
“Because badminton is a sport that is very accessible for the betterment of all communities and societies.”