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Malaga province has the highest number of clubs in Andalucía and is the only province of Spain to have its own league
15.09.14 - 11:35 -
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Barmy for badminton
A player reaches to hit a shuttlecock at the Arroyo de la Miel sports centre. :: ÑITO SALAS
Every afternoon more than 100 sports enthusiasts go to the sports centre in Arroyo de la Miel with a racquet in their hand, but they are not going to play tennis or even paddle tennis. Judging by the size of the handle, they might be heading for a squash court, but their sport doesn’t involve the use of a ball. Instead, they use a piece of cork with 16 feathers stuck into it, called a shuttlecock. They are badminton players.
This minority sport, which has become fashionable thanks to world champion Carolina Marín, has been played for more than 30 years in Malaga. With nine badminton clubs and around 300 federation licences, it is the province in Andalucía which shows the greatest interest in this sport as well as being a power on the national level. Besides this, it is the only province in Spain to have its own League.
The origin of this game on the Costa del Sol dates back to the 1980s in Madrid, when the College of P.E. Teachers wanted to make badminton better known and organised a training course. Three teachers from schools in Malaga attended and upon their return they made efforts to introduce badminton in the city. It was like starting a fire which continues to burn today.
The first badminton school in Malaga was in the Jorge Guillén school in El Palo district in 1985 and players from this club still train there every day. Several Spanish champions and would-be members of the national team have grown up in the playground of this school. In another part of the province, the fire burns even more brightly. The Benalmádena Badminton Club, which was founded at the end of the 1980s in the sports centre at Arroyo de la Miel, is the only Malaga team which is currently competing in the top national category, the Division of Honour.
A club with tradition
“We’re talking about nearly 30 years of history. Badminton has an important tradition in Benalmádena. Within a few years of being created, the club was Spanish champion on two occasions. We have 80 players and 20 patron members who help us. Our base is the municipal badminton school, which is attended by more than 100 players and is the nursery from where we select the best,” says trainer Eduardo Herrero, who is considered by his colleagues to be one of the best in Spain. He organised an important campaign to attract new badminton fans in Benalmádena through exhibitions at local schools more than ten years ago.
It was from the sports centre in Arroyo de la Miel that the only two Olympic players in the province came, Esther Sanz and José Antonio Crespo. Esther took part in the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992, the first ones at which badminton was considered an Olympic sport. José Antonio, who is currently coach for the Peruvian team, took part in Athens 2004.
Another place in the province where badminton is growing in popularity is Alhaurín de la Torre. Its team competed in the Spanish First Division last season, with few resources but huge support. The president of the club, Mateo Garrido, recalls its beginnings: “The headmaster of the Huerta Alta school gave me a cheque for 60,000 pesetas. My wife and I went to mark out some courts on the ground with paint. After a great deal of work, we played in the First Division last year and we made the name of this town known throughout Spain. We lost nearly all the games we played, and we lost badly. Our team is just made up of normal people from the town. But the satisfaction was tremendous”, he says.
Despite its popularity, the sport is lacking funding with many clubs unable to afford feather shuttlecocks as they have a life span of just one day. The Benalmádena club has an exchange programme with a team in Denmark - BK Triton de Aalbork. But they have been unable to send players there to improve their level.
The ‘Carolina Marín effect’
For most people in Spain, talk of shuttlecocks didn’t mean very much. Until last weekend, that is, when Carolina Marín, who is from Huelva, was proclaimed world badminton champion after beating Li Xuerui, from China. More than 400,000 people watched the final on television, even though the game has barely 7,000 federation licences in the whole country. The supporters may be few in number, but they are passionate about the game.
With regard to Carolina Marín’s success, Mateo Garrido says: “I burst into tears when she won. We identify with her. What Carolina has done has been tremendous, it has changed people’s view of the game. Now they appreciate the physical effort and the technical level. This sport is becoming better known now and we have to take advantage of that. It’s now or never,” says the head of the badminton club in Alhaurín de la Torre. Lucas Quirós, a player from Benalmádena, is delighted that he has seen more children playing badminton this week. “It’s the Carolina Marín effect,” he says. At his side, young Alejandro Palomino agrees: “This has made me more keen to continue playing this sport.”
In Asian countries, badminton is one of the most popular sports. In China alone there are said to be more than one million players and they are at the top of the world ranking. “What Carolina Marín has done is comparable to Luxembourg winning the fotball World Cup,” says Antonio Rico of the Jorge Guillén Badminton Club as he hands out plastic shuttlecocks to his pupils.