World champion Rachel Choong hopes badminton will continue to break down access barriers for the next generation as she focuses on making history at the 2024 Paralympics.
Choong, 29, is a multiple medal winner from her SH6 Para-badminton class, taking world gold in both doubles events as well as the singles in 2015 at Stoke Mandeville.
While more world and European success followed, hopes of competing when para-badminton debuted at the Tokyo Paralympics were dashed after the female short stature category was not included.
However, with the programme since expanded for Paris, Choong has been able to refocus again backed by full-time UK Sport funding as she targets increasing her medal haul.
Liverpool-born Choong took up the sport aged six and is also part of Badminton England’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee.
Choong helped launch the new ‘Badminton – A Sport for Everyone’ initiative, which sets out 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 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 have found that badminton has never put up any barriers because of my disability or my ethnic background or my gender, and I feel like that’s fantastic,” Choong told the PA news agency.
“I just hope that particularly with this strategy, we can show more people how accessible badminton is and that it can bring so many people together, create communities within communities and I think that’s really special.
“I only found out about para-badminton in 2007, so I was already seven years into playing the sport and I didn’t even know that it even existed.
“Whereas now people with disabilities, I would like to think that a lot of them in this country already know that badminton is an option for them.
“That is something that we want to promote even more, to get coaches involved in para-badminton as well, just so people aren’t turned away at clubs, and that coaches are more open to that as well.
“For me, that initial very first badminton experience really needs to be positive, particularly for someone with a disability or there is something that could maybe prevent them from playing badminton.
“The coaches need to be given the tools to bring people in and give more people a positive experience, which means that more people will hopefully be in the sport for longer.
“And with para (sport) taking such a big part of the strategy and Badminton England understanding how we can grow para-badminton, it means that hopefully we can find our next Paralympic stars.”
Having gone through a tough spell trying to attend events as an unfunded athlete and train through the Covid-19 pandemic, Choong now faces the challenge of working her way back up the world rankings.
As well as competing in singles, Choong has teamed up with Jack Shephard in the SH6 mixed doubles. The pair took bronze at the 2022 Para-Badminton World Championships in Tokyo and during August were runners-up at The 4 Nations Para Badminton International in Sheffield.
“To find out that my events are now being included for the Paris 2024 Paralympic programme is hugely exciting for me. It’s an opportunity that I felt I couldn’t let pass me by,” Choong said.
“I’ve grabbed it with both hands and just invested everything I possibly can into this opportunity because I’ve waited so long for it and I was so desperate for it.
“I do feel like I’m playing catch up a bit, but it is exciting. It is motivating and it means that I have got something to aim for.
“Before, because I was in the fortunate position of being on top (of the rankings), it did mean that I didn’t know where really I was aiming for or how far I could really be pushed, but now the sport has progressed and advanced.
“It is an exciting place to be in, but it is not a given anymore that I will do well at tournaments – but that is a good thing as well.”