Asian badminton reps eager to smash gender stereotypes

Badminton Asia Women in Badminton Summit

Gunfire is an almost daily occurrence in Afghanistan with the latest being the attack against the Afghan Ministry of Information in Kabul on Saturday. Seven were killed.

This was a day after the much-anticipated talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, scheduled in Doha, were suspended indefinitely following a row over the number of delegates from Kabul.

But such volatile situations have not stopped Mastora Arezo from dreaming big.

The president of the Afghanistan Badminton Federation pleaded to the powers-that-be that the nation must move forward quickly as this is crucial to the development of badminton.

“I grew up experiencing Taliban rule. All I hope for is a change for the better as we need to move forward. We must move forward,” said Mastora.

Having helmed the federation since 2013, Mastora said badminton has gained popularity in recent years with more and more young children picking up the sport.

“In the past, badminton was only played in Kabul and Herot. Today, it is played in at least 17 (out of the 34) provinces in Afghanistan.

“We now plan to get more youngsters, especially girls, to play badminton in other provinces and schools.”

Mastora added her federation recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Afghan Education Ministry to further popularise the sport at the lower levels.

“It’s not easy as we have cultural sensitivities to look into. I had planned to organise a badminton competition in Qatar, in line with the talks between the Afghanistan government and Taliban.”

While Mastora’s sports diplomacy plan may take a backseat following recent developments, it will not stop other federations, especially those from the Gulf nations, to empower more young girls.

Mastora was met at the sidelines of the summit which ended on Friday.

Participated by badminton associations and federations across Asia, three speakers – Iran’s Number 1 shuttler Soraya Aghaei Hajiagha, Petronas’ head of integrity risk management Nurirdzuana Ismail and Twentytwo13’s editor Haresh Deol – featured in the two-day affair. Also present was Badminton Asia chief operating officer Datuk Kenny Goh.

Haresh Deol
Haresh speaking to the participants during his session on April 19.

Fariba Jalalian who is the head coach of Iran’s female badminton team said while girls and boys play sports in the country, it was difficult to get young children, especially girls to pick up badminton due to the lack of facilities.

There are also no clubs near schools.

“But when they enter university, they have access to proper facilities and this is why many girls tend to pick up sports at a later stage in life,” said Fariba, who coaches Soraya.

Fariba said there are now better sporting facilities in the country and female athletes are shining.

Soraya, who fell in love with badminton at the age of 17 after receiving a racquet as a birthday gift, is set to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Nada A. Alharthi, the only woman board member of the Saudi Badminton Federation, said sports in schools for girls in the Kingdom was only introduced last year.

“I grew up only doing some light exercise like sit-ups in school.

“Our uniforms were skirts as pants were not allowed in school. In some private schools, we wore pants under our skirts to engage in light physical activities. But for the boys, it was different.

“Physical Education in school for the girls previously meant it was a free period as they are not allowed to play any sports.”

“While introducing sports for girls in schools is a good sign, the main hurdle is the lack of qualified coaches and trainers. There’s no sports education in universities,” said Nada.

As such, expertise is being sought from foreign countries including Malaysia and Indonesia.

“There’s a lack of role models for young girls and also the cultural stigma of girls being photographed while playing sports. Many women want to play basketball or badminton but it’s usually done in enclosed areas.”

Despite the challenges, she hoped more young girls in Saudi Arabia will be determined to play sports.

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