World champion Rachel Chung hopes badminton continues to break barriers of access for the next generation as she focuses on making history at the 2024 Paralympics.
Chung, 29, is a multiple medal winner in her SH6 badminton category, claiming world gold in both doubles as well as singles in 2015 in Stoke Mandeville.
While more global and European success followed, hopes for competition were dashed when para-badminton made its debut at the Tokyo Paralympics after the short-statured female category was not included.
However, with the program having since expanded to include Paris, Chung has been able to refocus once again supported by UK Sport funding full time as she aims to increase her medal tally.
Liverpool-born Chong started the sport at the age of six and is also part of Badminton England’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Chung helped launch the new Badminton – Sport for All initiative, which sets a blueprint for the growth of the sport at all levels over the next decade, with a focus on youth and inclusion.
She is confident that Badminton England’s approach can help tap into the next generation of talent and make potential Paralympians feel they can make a real impact on the sport.
“I’ve found that badminton has put up no barriers at all because of my disability, ethnic background or gender, and I feel that’s fantastic,” Chung told the PA news agency.
“I just hope that through this strategy in particular, we can show more people how accessible badminton is and that it can bring a lot of people together, create communities within communities and I think that’s really special.”
“I would say there are fewer barriers now, fortunately. For me, badminton wasn’t something we were really aware of.
“I only discovered para-badminton in 2007, so I had spent seven years playing the sport and didn’t even know it existed.
“While people with disabilities now, I would like to think that many of them in this country already know that badminton is an option for them.
“That’s something we want to promote more, is getting coaches involved in disabled badminton as well, just so people aren’t turned away from the clubs, and coaches are more open to that as well.
“For me, my first badminton experience has to be really positive, especially for people with a disability or something that might prevent them from playing badminton.
“Coaches need to be equipped with the tools to engage people and give more people a positive experience, which means hopefully more people will stay in the sport longer.
“And with (para sport) getting a big part of the strategy and Badminton England understanding how to develop para badminton, it means we can hopefully find our next Paralympic stars.”
After going through a difficult period while trying to attend events as an unfunded athlete and train during the COVID-19 pandemic, Choong now faces the challenge of returning to the world rankings.
In addition to competing in singles, Choong teamed up with Jack Shepherd in the mixed doubles SH6. The pair claimed bronze at the 2022 World Para Badminton Championships in Tokyo, and during August they were runners-up at the International Four Nations Badminton Championships in Sheffield.
“Knowing that my events have now been included in the program for the Paris 2024 Paralympics is very exciting for me. It is an opportunity that I felt I could not let pass,” said Chung.
“I grabbed it with both hands and invested everything I could into this opportunity because I had waited so long for it and needed it so badly.
“I feel like I’m playing catch-up a bit, but it’s exciting. It’s motivating and means I have something to aim for.”
“Before, because I was in the lucky position of being at the top (of the rankings), it meant I didn’t know where to really aim or how far I could really push, but now the sport has progressed and advanced.
“It’s an exciting place to be, but it’s no longer a given that I’ll do well in tournaments – but that’s a good thing too.”
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