Photo: Badmintonphoto
To Man-Kei: I took the decision to resign from my job
Date: 8/24/2020 2:08 PM
Published by : BEC staff

Earlier in the year, speaking to Belgium’s To Man-Kei we learnt of her fascinating journey into the sport and her great hope of glory at the upcoming Paralympic Games. To discusses in-depth about the future of Para badminton.

Female WH1 star, To Man-Kei, started competition on an international level in 2015 but has seen much development in Para badminton in these past five years.

- When I started, I was just a beginner, so everything was totally new for me. But I can see there is a development during these years like tournaments are organised more professionally. We often now have line judges during tournaments, even sometimes during the group phase, but it is not standard yet, unfortunately. Service judges are rarely present, maybe once in the finals, but still better than before. And TV screens are now often used for the score, which certainly looks better. Also, the announcement of players, umpires and judges to go on court together from the meeting point, and to come off court together as well. That is for me a really positive step.

To can also see a difference in the mindset and approach of the players themselves. 

- You can also see and feel players training harder and more seriously now. The level is certainly higher than five years ago. Also, the equipment players have, like the sport wheelchairs have its development. Certain models or brands become standard. Not like five years ago, you could see basketball, tennis, Omni sport, with all kinds of wheelchairs.

Read: To Man-Kei: Had so much fun on and off-court

Young blood

With all of these overall observations looking to point Para badminton upwards and onwards, is the future for Para badminton bright?

-I like Para badminton very much. It is a very highly intensive sport including technique, tactics, physical conditioning and mental toughness. It deserves to be a discipline of the Paralympic Games, no doubt. But just because of that high intensity, it is very difficult to find new players who his/her body wants to suffer in this sport. In Belgium, I am the only wheelchair player now. We had another female and male wheelchair player, but they both quit a few years ago. Belgium is indeed small, but if I look at Germany, such a big country, they also cannot find high-level players to extend their national team. The same for Spain, Austria, Italy and Turkey. Countries like the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, they do not even have wheelchair players. And the age of our European players will be an issue too. You never stay twenty or thirty. 

To Man Kei, 34, also has an awareness of what things are like in Asia.

- Even in Asia, they have difficulties finding new blood. Hong Kong, only one wheelchair player for so many years. Malaysia, such a big badminton country, only one, the same. The national team in Thailand I have trained with, cannot grow. They have new players, but the level is quite a bit lower than those of the national team. Korean players are all over 40, 50. We do not see new young players in their country playing tournaments. China and Japan are doing well, but that is probably not enough to hold the international Para Badminton circuit nor being a discipline of the Paralympic Games. So, I am worried about the future of Para badminton.

Read: Emma Karlsson: We believe in what we are doing

One family, one goal

Hearing these words from To Man-Kei almost feels like a rallying cry for countries to do more for the sport. Perhaps the success of the Paralympics next year, featuring Para badminton for the first time, may act as an inspiration for the growth of the sport. Asking To if she has noticed any changes in Para badminton as we get closer to the big event. 

- You can feel more rivalry between players and countries, especially in Asia where the sport is more popular and even the national sport of their country. Friendship, kindness, feeling like a big family of all para players together, are now less than before. You could join a training camp cross-country, everywhere. But now, national teams would not allow that so easily anymore. Every player, coach, country wants to be part of the Games. 

For To, she initially did not think that she would be part of something so big, but then something changed in her mind and really wanted to get to Tokyo. 

- I decided to play all qualification tournaments last year, which disturbed the balance between the sport and my part-time job. I was spending too much time abroad and rushing the whole time from my work to the court and vice versa. Until one certain moment, it became unbearable, physically and mentally, I was stressing too much. So, I took the decision to resign from my job and to focus full time on my sports career and hope it is worth it to achieve my dream.

Read: Langridge: I was taken to the hospital

Amazing feeling in Basel

During the World Championships in Basel last year, the Para badminton was played at the same place at the same time. For To, this setup was a success and is something that should happen more often. 

- It was amazing in Basel. For the first time, we Para badminton players felt respected, like professionals. Everything was set up, organised perfectly like how it should be in every Para badminton tournament. There was media, security, stands, food courts, and the most important basics like an umpire, service and line judges in every game.

It was also a chance for the badminton players to mingle with the Para badminton players, and for many of the audience to see Para badminton for the first time. 

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