Nigeria’s Bolaji on a dream run at Dubai-Fazza Para Badminton International

Dubai Club for People of Determination awards Uganda’s Mwesigwa the Most Determined Player of the Championships trophy

By Team KT

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Nigeria’s Mariam Eniola Bolaji in action at the 5th Fazza- Dubai Para Badminton International 2023. = Supplied photo
Nigeria’s Mariam Eniola Bolaji in action at the 5th Fazza- Dubai Para Badminton International 2023. = Supplied photo

Published: Sun 17 Dec 2023, 11:06 AM

Nigeria’s Mariam Eniola Bolaji is on a mission. She wants to become the first Para shuttler from Nigeria to win a gold medal at the Paralympics.

And the way she is performing at the 5th Fazza- Dubai Para badminton International 2023 in Dubai has made heads turn.

Currently ranked 23rd in the Paralympic Games qualification rankings, the promising shuttler is expected to climb the rankings helping her way to get to her dream event – the Paralympics.

“I have a big dream of playing the Paralympics and become the first Para shuttler from Nigeria to win the gold medal there,” said Bolaji, who shocked Asian Para Games champion from China Zuxian Xiao in three games 21-13, 20-22, 21-15 to enter the women’s singles SL3 final.

“But before that I want to win the gold medal in Dubai.”

Uganda's Elizabeth Mwesigwa has been a regular at the Fazza-Dubai Para Badminton International event. - Supplied photo
Uganda's Elizabeth Mwesigwa has been a regular at the Fazza-Dubai Para Badminton International event. - Supplied photo

Bolaji, who created a stir winning the Spanish Open Para Badminton International on her first international debut in 2021, has been unbeaten in 2023 winning the Uganda International 2023 before clinching three gold medals at Africa Para Badminton Championships in Kampala, Uganda.

“I am very thankful to Badminton Confederation of Africa and Nigeria Badminton Federation who has been supported me and sent me to Spain,” said Bolaji who looks up to Pramod Bhagat and Nitesh Kumar for motivation.

There was another player from Africa who was hogging the limelight in the Dubai Para Badminton event.

Uganda’s Elizabeth Mwesigwa is an epitome of courage and perseverance.

For Mwesigwa, who picked up badminton in 2017, Para Badminton is about inspiring the disabled people of her country to play sport and change the mindset of the people towards disability.

“In my country, I see many people with disability sit on the street and start begging money,” said Mwesigwa who is a regular at the Fazza-Dubai Para Badminton International every year.

“I play Para Badminton to inspire this section of the people in my country. I want to change people’s perception who say that people with disability cannot do this or that.”

Mwesigwa, who was born with a condition where she walks with her knee, is an inspiration to many Para shuttlers in her country including Ritah Asiimwe.

“She has overcome so many hurdles and despite so severe disability she makes sure to come to training and play competitions,” said Assimwe.

Touched by Mwesigwa’s story right from beginning where she faced difficulty to get the shoe on her knee to continue playing the sport and now running an organisation to help disabled children, the Dubai Club for People of Determination awarded her the Most Determined Player of the Championships with a trophy and cash prize.

In the men’s singles SL3 final, it will be a showdown between Paralympic and Asian Para Games champion Pramod Bhagat and his arch-rival from England Daniel Bethell, the Paralympic silver-medallist.

“Bethell had a good season this year. After Paralympics, he has done a lot of improvements in movements and strokes. It will be a good match tomorrow. I am looking forward to it,” said Bhagat who holds a head-to-head record against Bethell at 6-10.

In the semi-finals, the Indian maintained his dominance over Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara winning it 31 minutes by a 21-11, 21-11 scoreline.

Bhagat will also play the SL3-SU5 mixed doubles final alongwith Manisha Ramadass after winning their semi-finals over Indonesia’s Fredy Setiawan and Khalimatus Sadiyah in straight games 21-7, 21-17.

Meanwhile, fellow Para shuttler Suhas L. Yathiraj advanced to men’s singles SL4 final beating compatriot Sukant Kadam 21-15, 21-8 and will face

Malaysia’s Mohammed Amin Burhanuddin in the final.

Burhanuddin prevented an all-India final in the men’s singles SL4 when he beat Tarun Tarun, 21-17, 17-21, 22-20. Tarun and his partner Nitesh, the Asian Para Games champion, also lost their mixed doubles SL3-SL4 semi-final falling to Korean pair Shin Kyung Hwan and Joo Dongjae, 15-21 21-17 17-21.

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Meanwhile, India’s rising star Thulasimathi Murugesan made it to two finals – women’s singles SU5 and women’s doubles SL3-SU5 with Manasi Joshi.

Indonesia’s Paralympic star Leani Ratri Oktila made it to three finals – women’s singles SL3, women’s doubles SL3-SU5 with Sadiyah and mixed doubles SL3-SU5 with partner Himat Ramdani.

In wheelchair events, Asian Para Games champions Qu Zimo of China (MS WH1), Japan’s Daiki Kajiwara (MS WH2), Yin Menglu (WH1), Liu Yutong (WS WH2) cruised into the finals, while Malaysia’s Cheah Liek Hou (MS SU5) and Hong Kong’s Chu Man Kai (MS SH6) advanced.


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