The Asian Satellite Badminton Championship taking place in Kathmandu this week has injected new enthusiasm towards the sport among its Nepali aficionados. It's not just the thrill of competing with international badminton stars but also the new infrastructure that has been built for the event.
"It's a different kind of happiness competing with international players before your home crowd," says Pashupati Paneru (pictured), the Nepal champion and captain of the national badminton team. His team-mates Pankaj Chand, Indra Mahata, Prajwall Rana, Puja Shrestha and Sumina Shrestha are as excited.
The tournament started on 7 June and has nine men and seven women participating from Nepal. Everyone in the Nepal Badminton Association (NBA) is geared to make sure that the tournament, put in the calendar of the International Badminton Federation, is a success. The Chairman of the organising committee and General Secretary of the NBA, Naresh Bahadur Singh, says the tournament will reflect the respect badminton can build in Nepal, "It will boost the sport and provide us with international exposure."
The international quality infrastructure assembled and built specially for the tournament will belong to the NBA. The Asian Badminton Confederation provided the NBA with two synthetic court mats for the tournament along with umpires and technicians, and Yonex Company of Japan has given equipment. Although 39 nations affiliated with the ABC were invited, only 30 athletes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are competing for the prize money of $7,000. India Number 3 Utsav Mishra and Pakistan Number 1 Wajid Ali Chaudhary have already made their mark in the tournament. The finals are scheduled for 11 June. Fans following the sport are already rooting for Mishra.
Nepal Captain Paneru, who ranks 303 in the world, is confident about the Nepali team's performance as is trainer Kiran Thapa. The Nepal has reached the semi-finals in the Men's doubles and Mixed doubles. The women's trainer, Rajani Joshi, says, "Our chances are pretty good because the only main competitor is Sri Lanka."
Former Nepal Number 1 and trainer Thapa believes that with the tournament the sport will take a different mode. "Finances were a major problem in our time, however the players now do not face this. The tournament will add to the monetary value as well as the standard of the game," he says. Top Nepali players are not just employees in the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force but also win upto Rs100,000 a year in prize money. Captain Paneru's equipment is sponsored by the Himalayan Bank.
The NBA plans to organise tournaments at the school, district, regional and national levels. This Championship will also act as pre-preparation for the National Games to be held in November and the upcoming 10th South Asian Federation Games.