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Jerome Bunge and Laho Maiauka in action / Source: Badminton Perth Photos

The para badminton players of Papua New Guinea (PNG) have a formidable reputation. Taking to the court without the high-tech prosthetics and equipment available to some players, they play a game which is fierce and fast and powerful.

“People just watch them in awe and go, ‘How can you do that?’!” says Julie Caroll, the Secretary-General of Badminton Oceania. “How can you play with a crutch and a badminton racket and move like that? This is the third time that we’ve seen them at a tournament and every time we just say, ‘Wow!’.”

Julie made the remarks while speaking to ABC Pacific on the sidelines of the Oceania Para Badminton Championships, held in Perth last year. Supported by the Australian Government through PacificAus Sports, PNG’s National Para Badminton team was represented by three men and three women at the event: Martha Ah Wong, Jerome Bunge, Regina Edward, Laho Maiauka, Manega Tapari and Danny Ten. By the time the competition came to an end, the team had earned two bronze medals: one for Jerome in the Men's Singles SL3, and the other for Danny in the Men’s Doubles SL3-SU5.

“This is my third international game – and I’m not afraid of anyone,” Danny told the ABC ahead of his medal-win. Danny had an amputation as the result of a car accident in 2019, and played his first para badminton tournament in Australia in 2020. “Badminton is everything for me. Badminton makes me feel respected.”

The rewards of long-term commitment

Team Manager, Laurel Vagi, saw the medal wins as evidence that PNG was getting results from its focus on para badminton development.

“Winning medals in these events highlights the depth of talent and co-ordination within our para badminton program and the overall determination and self-belief. [The players’] commitment to rigorous training and their ability to adapt to different opponents were truly commendable,” she told PNG daily newspaper The National.

In addition to the support from PacificAus Sports to compete in international tournaments, the development of para badminton in PNG has also been supported by Australia’s sport-for-development program Team Up, and the Inclusive GymBad program. Several national team members had their first experience of the sport through Inclusive GymBad, including Danny who is now a coach with the Badminton Papua New Guinea Federation.

“By fostering a strong sense of community and passion for para badminton, we aim to create a sustainable legacy for years to come,” says Laurel, who is already looking forward to uncovering the next generation of para badminton talent.

Regina Edward at the competition / Source: Badminton Perth Photos
Coach encouraging athletes / Source: Badminton Perth Photos

Emerging stronger than ever

The successful Oceania Para Badminton Championship event was followed by the Western Australia Para Badminton International where PNG players had the opportunity to play against some of the world’s most highly ranked players from countries including Japan, India, South Korea and France. There were no podium finishes for PNG at the event, but the exposure to top-level competition across both tournaments was valued by players and support staff.

“This journey has been about more than just medals,” said Badminton Papua New Guinea in a post to Facebook. “Our athletes have grown, persevered, and showcased their incredible determination. They've faced tough competitors and emerged stronger than ever. As they return … they carry with them the stories of every match, the cheers of the crowd, and the lessons of teamwork and sportsmanship.”

PNG’s badminton community were keen to recognise the Australian Government’s contribution to the team’s participation in the two international tournaments, funded through PacificAus Sports.

“[The] commitment to fostering sports development in Papua New Guinea has made a significant impact on our journey, and we are sincerely thankful for the opportunities provided.”

Team Manager Laurel is certain that the experience will translate into continued success for the team.

“We are committed to supporting their journey towards achieving even greater heights in the world of para badminton,” she added.

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