Exclusive: Badminton the next step in Dubai's ambition to become the world's sporting capital

The Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championship (February 14-19) in Dubai has attracted 17 teams

by

Rituraj Borkakoty

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Dr. Sathya Menon, CEO of Beyond Boundaries, with Indian badminton legend PV Sindhu. — Supplied photo
Dr. Sathya Menon, CEO of Beyond Boundaries, with Indian badminton legend PV Sindhu. — Supplied photo

Published: Sun 12 Feb 2023, 9:47 PM

Dr. Sathya Menon, CEO of Beyond Boundaries, the local organisers for the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championship in Dubai (February 14 to February 19) is confident of delivering a hugely successful event.

To be held at the Expo City-Dubai Exhibition Centre, the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championship has drawn 17 teams from strongest badminton continent in the world.

Beyond Boundaries has signed a five-year deal with Badminton Asia to host the Asian championships in Dubai for five years under the auspices of the Dubai Sports Council.

Menon, a former Kerala state cricketer who once played domestic cricket against the likes of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble, hopes the premier badminton championship will help the sport grow in the Middle East region.

During an exclusive interview with the Khaleej Times, Menon also revealed the initiatives they would take to popularise badminton in the UAE.

Q. How did the idea of hosting an event as big as the Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championship in Dubai come about?

Badminton Asia approached us to conduct this tournament during Covid times. But we were not interested in conducting a one off event. It's not something which is attractive. So we started negotiating with them for a five-year contract. That got their attention. So they said, 'okay, let's bring it to this part of the world'. Yes, we have a lot of expats in the UAE, but badminton as a sport or event has never been done in the past in such a large scale. So we started negotiating with them for almost a year, to convince them because Badminton Asia, they have 43 member associations. They had to take their vote, their executive committee needed to approve it. Then finally they said yes and agreed that it's a great idea to popularise the sport in the West Asian region.

Q. Among the locals here, badminton is not a very popular sport...

Yes, so from the Badminton World Federation perspective, West Asia is a priority for them to develop the sport. Asia is anyway, the number one in the sport. But this part of Asia, as you know, badminton is not so strong. Also, we think the UAE should be able to send a team to the 2028 Olympics. We can start initiatives by bringing the best players here and make them play here with young talent, especially the Emirati talents.

Q. So what could be those initiatives?

We want to create awareness campaigns. We are planning to bring some celebrities to play. Here in the UAE, cricket is a big sport among the South Asian communities, even Emiratis follow the sport. We are trying to bring some cricketing people through our sources in the BCCI, to bring some glamour into the sport. As of now, there is no glamour in badminton, especially if you talk about India, PV Sindhu is the only star after the cricketers. So we need more stars, we need more players coming in, we need to create bigger ecosystem for badminton. So that's the whole objective.

Q. Have you reached out to the local badminton academies in the UAE?

Yes, we brought 43 clubs together, we hosted a dinner for them. We briefed them about the importance of this tournament we are hosting here in Dubai. We were able to motivate them. First of all, we managed to bring all of them under one roof for the first time, it has never happened before. We have incentivised it, we have sent free tickets to the members. We are also conducting an event, a three-point match between young players, the winning teams will get to watch the final and take a photo with Sindhu. So it's creating some buzz in the market.

Q. Dubai has already become a very popular sporting destination. Now this badminton championship is a beautiful new addition to Dubai's resume...

Yes, they want to make Dubai the sports capital of the world. Cricket is frequently being played here, the Asia Cup is probably again coming back in the 50 overs format this year. You already have world-class tennis, rugby and golf events here. So this is another big sport which is going to come. You know the TV viewership for Asian badminton championship is around 670 million. So all these people will be watching an event that is going to happen in Dubai!

Q. Tell us a bit more about the venue at the Expo City?

The players and officials will enjoy the facilities. They will be staying at the Rove Hotel at the Expo City and the venue is just a few minutes walk from there. They can go and practice any time, even in the midnight. It's a great advantage for the players.

Q. As part of the deal, you are also hosting the Individual Asian Badminton Championships in Dubai?

Yes, the Individual event will be held in April, which is an even bigger event. This will also act as qualifiers for the Olympics. People are actually more interested in the individual event. In the team championship, they play for the pride, for their country, the individual event has more glamour. But both are equally important for our perspective. We hope that from next event we will get more support from sponsors.

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