Feathers will be flying without delay as badminton clubs around the country respond to the lifting of restrictions on community sport, says Badminton New Zealand Chief Executive Joe Hitchcock.
Hitchcock has been in regular contact with regional associations and clubs throughout the lockdown and senses a real hunger for players to get back on court.
“Our community are very focussed on getting back on court as soon as it is safe to do so. They are doing everything possible to ensure we can restart the sport we all love,” he said.
Badminton in New Zealand has been on a steady upwards trajectory over the past five years, driven by a popular grass-roots coaching programme in schools, a growing club and event scene, and a diverse workforce of coaches and volunteers spread throughout the country.
The sport’s growth in schools is the result of a multi-pronged approach, delivering the Badminton World Federation’s Shuttle Time programme to over 40,000 kiwi students each year, while also training volunteers and teachers to keep delivering badminton in schools. The results speak for themselves - badminton is one of the fastest growing sports in the secondary school space, with over 11,000 students representing their school in 2019 and has more students competing than tennis, squash and table tennis combined.
Although badminton halls around the country have been quiet since the 25 March lockdown began, players and coaches have taken the sport online in innovative ways to stay connected and to keep their skills sharp. Badminton courts have popped up in backyards, with nets strung up between outdoor furniture and coaching lessons have been delivered via Zoom and the Sky Sport Next Home Advantage YouTube series.
Even at the highest level, New Zealand’s top players have been holding training sessions online to keep on top of their conditioning and fitness. There has still been time for a bit of fun too, with a social media video produced by the squad being shared worldwide, with over 220 thousand views to date.
Also eager for the resumption of community sport are over 300 clubs spread throughout the country. With plenty of support from their regional associations, these clubs have been working hard and putting in place precautions to ensure their players stay safe as they begin to reopen their doors.
The keenness to return is shared by the sport’s administrators, who have been coming together regularly. A set of working groups have been established, drawing on expertise from around the country to consider what badminton might look like in a post-Covid world and how the sport can be ready to take advantage of the new environment.
A key focus is the imminent arrival of AirBadminton on our shores. Featuring a newly developed, wind-resistant shuttle, AirBadminton opens many new opportunities for the sport, which has traditionally been played indoors. This new shuttle makes in-school lessons and continued backyard play even more accessible and will help to ensure badminton continues its remarkable growth.
Hitchcock is confident that the sport will emerge from Covid-19 even stronger.
“Covid-19 has forced us to critically assess everything that we do. While many things will change, we remain confident that the universal appeal of badminton and its link to the changing face of New Zealand means we will continue to inspire more and more Kiwis to love badminton for life.”