Special Olympics: Gade, Zwiebler Shine Light on Inclusion 

Special Olympics: Gade, Zwiebler Shine Light on Inclusion 
Peter Gade and Marc Zwiebler Badminton Unified Experience Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023, 18.06.2023 Photo: Marvin Ibo Guengoer

They were opponents on court for more than a decade, but what unites Peter Gade and Marc Zwiebler now is many times stronger than any rivalry they enjoyed.

That’s because the former world No.1 and European champion have rallied around the common cause of inclusion – as BWF Global Ambassadors for the recent Special Olympics World Games 2023 in Berlin.

“It’s special to be an ambassador and I’m proud as a Berliner to have this event here,” Zwiebler said. “With the Games in Germany, and even where I live, it feels like home turf. It’s a great honour and an amazing experience.”

Introduced to the programme of the quadrennial Special Olympics in 1995, badminton is now leading the way in providing opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities to play sport.

“The key is everyone should be included in whatever we do with the Olympics, Paralympics and Special Olympics,” Gade said.

“This is all part of a community and that’s why it’s a big honour to come here and take part. If we can help all the athletes feel included in the badminton world, we will have achieved what we want to.”

Fully embracing their roles, Gade and Zwiebler held a question-and-answer autograph session at the Messe competition venue and played in the Unified Sports Experience alongside BWF Deputy President KhunyingPatama Leeswadtrakul, other global Special Olympics ambassadors, and many of the competitors.

Gade’s partners on court included Sulayman Debbah, a Special Olympian from France.

“It was a beautiful experience to meet a champion of badminton and I’m so very happy to make such a friendship,” Debbah said.

Gade had been taken aback by the self-confidence of his partner, who wasted no time in making his acquaintance.

“Sulayman came up to me beforehand and was very brave, introducing himself. We spoke a bit of French and then it was a wonderful experience to partner him.

“These special moments on and off the court can make a difference, and there are always a lot of them on days like these. Hopefully we can contribute to that and give them even more small moments they can be proud of.”

Debbah conveying his thoughts to Gade.

The two ambassadors then rolled back the years and enthralled the crowd by hitting a few rallies together.

“It was always a pleasure to play Peter, although his memories are better than mine,” Zwiebler joked.

“I grew up watching him as one of my idols so to succeed him as European champion in 2012 was a big moment. It’s great to see him in such good shape 11 years later, and still supporting the sport.”

Gade was far too gracious to mention the epic 2010 European Championship semifinal between the two, which he won in three games.

“We had many clashes and tense fights against each other over the years and although we are not young anymore, Marc’s lefty is still in the right place,” he said.

“He has great enthusiasm and passion for the game and you can feel that when he’s on court. Marc’s good at including all the other players and I have a huge respect for that.”

After long careers spanning three Olympic Games apiece, both players are now happily giving something back to a sport which gave them so much.

“We are here to make people smile and love the sport as much as we do,” Zwiebler said.

“Badminton is a big community, and it’s growing globally. It’s not just about the strong countries who have been at the top for ages such as China, Malaysia and Denmark. There are more and more players from all around the world coming together, and it’s fantastic to see.”

In total, the badminton competition at Berlin 2023 drew 191 athletes from 69 countries, with gold medals going to some of the smaller delegations such as Andorra, Kuwait, Latvia and Maldives.

“The numbers speak for themselves and that’s exactly the point of the Special Olympics: to have the diversity and make everyone feel a part of the badminton world,” Gade said.

“But this is still only the beginning of what we can do. What I hear when talking to a lot of coaches and players, the BWF and Special Olympics, is that everybody here wants to do even more.

“If Marc and I can contribute to that in any way, we will be happy to do so.”

Gade and Debbah celebrating a point.