Badminton greats Wang Yihan and Peter Gade were touched by the positive attitude of participants at the Special Olympics World Games, which were held in Abu Dhabi from 15 to 21 March.
Badminton was one of the 25 sports at the Games, which showcased the sporting abilities of people with intellectual disability.
The former top-ranked singles players attended the event as BWF ambassadors and felt that the event had left a lasting impact.
“I feel that it is very meaningful to be here at the Special Olympics World Games, I’m greatly influenced by the athletes’ optimism and eagerness to compete. Their smiles have truly touched me,” said Wang, world champion in 2011.
Gade, World Championships silver medallist in 2001, was as impressed.
“I think the whole badminton world appreciates what’s happening here. I’m just happy if I can inspire these players, especially the badminton players here, to take up badminton even more. To show the passion of badminton, to show the fire of badminton. To compete but also help each other, help their partners, set goals for their everyday practice. For me that’s what badminton is all about. And if I can inspire the athletes to do these, I’m very happy. For me to see that kind of fire and happiness, being on court with the athletes is amazing for me as well,” said Gade.
Wang was all praise for the conduct of the event, which had support systems in place for all the athletes.
“I visited the health screening centre and all the various sports venues. I feel that the welfare of the athletes is very well taken care of. This ensures that athletes are able to perform at their best. There is also support in the area of sports psychology, all these are really beneficial to the athletes.”
Gade emphasised the importance for everyone, including those with intellectual disability, to take up sports.
“If badminton can be the main focus of their life and they strive to be better every day, strive to handle each area of badminton as well as their daily lives to become the best possible player, I think it’s a positive process. That’s what badminton can do. If I can inspire that, I’m very happy,” said the Dane.
For many participants, the Special Olympics had made a big difference to their lives.
“It’s been a special sport to me because it’s helped keep me fit and healthy. I’ve made lots of friends through it,” said James Wyatt, an athlete from Great Britain.
“I have progressed from Special Olympics to mainstream clubs and even into mainstream badminton back in Great Britain which has been a really positive experience for me.”
Another athlete, Muhammad Umer, said he was inspired to become a coach.
“I want to be a badminton coach back in Pakistan as Special Olympics Pakistan is helping me here. I have a message to the badminton players here: Work hard and after four years, we’ll come here and play again.”