Nigeria’s Eniola Bolaji stunned the more fancied Ukrainian Oksana Kozyna 18-21,21-14,21-18 in the SL3 category to win the first-ever gold medal by an African Para badminton player outside the continent at the Spanish Para badminton International Championship which ended on Sunday 16th May 2021. Eniola put up a spirited fight to come from one set down to become the eventual winner in her debut tournament.
Born on the 21st of September 2005 in Ibadan, and brought up in Kwara state Nigeria, Eniola was discovered 4 years ago and was coached by the late Coach Bello Oyebanji who lost his life in preparation for this tournament. Her first interest was tennis but the late coach saw her potential in Para badminton.
“The late Coach was like a father to me, a man of discipline who supported me. He inspired me to take up Para badminton instead of tennis and I am happy with the results” She said.
Eniola’s fairy tale started when she was selected for inclusion in the Nigerian Para badminton team as a Junior player but due to lack of sponsorship, she was not exposed to tournaments. Her fate would however change in 2019 when she attended the BCA Para badminton Athlete Workshop held in Abuja, Nigeria, and qualified for the BWF Female Participation Grant program which enabled her to attend her first-ever tournament. The BWF Para badminton female participation annual grant offers opportunities for female Para athletes to apply for financial support to attend and be internationally classified at several BWF sanctioned tournaments. To be considered to receive the participation grant from the BWF, athletes must be affiliated to their National Badminton Federation, be eligible to be internationally classified by the BWF in one of the six Para badminton sports classes (WH1, WH2, SL3, SL4, SU5&SH6), and participate in a structured badminton training program weekly minimum.
Dedicating the win for her late coach Bello Oyebanji, Eniola hopes that this win will further spur the public and the Nigerian Government’s interest in the development of Para badminton in the country. She promises to use her sudden plunge to stardom to advocate for the rights of persons living with disabilities and she advises parents not to lock up their children who have disabilities.
The President of the Badminton Federation of Nigeria Mr. Francis Orbih Esq. appreciating the win stated that “Eniola’s win is very significant and exciting for the entire badminton family in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. It was a huge consolation to us all after the death of Bello Oyebanji”
The win has put Nigeria and Africa on the badminton World map” he further stated “with the win the future of Para-Badminton looks bright as we intend to build on Eniola’s history-making victory to create more awareness about Para-Badminton across Nigeria. Eniola Bolaji has brought honor and pride to our entire continent and as we continue to dedicate the Gold Medal to the late coach Bello, I would like to appreciate the entire BCA management for their effort and dedication to the growth of Para-badminton in Africa.
Similar sentiments were echoed by the President of the BCA Mr. Michel Bau, who sent his heartfelt congratulations to the entire Nigerian Para badminton community on this unprecedented achievement.
“This accomplishment is the result of the incessant and collective effort of your association and all other local stakeholders including the players, coaches, and administrators. We do not doubt that this accomplishment is a milestone in our history and will certainly encourage more countries to adopt and succeed in Para badminton” he said.
Since the inception of Para badminton in Africa in 2017, as part of its strategic plan, the BCA in collaboration with the BWF and the AGITOS foundation (the development division of the International Paralympic Committee, IPC) has been actively engaged in developing the Parasport in Africa by Organizing activities such as Player development camps, Coaches workshops, National Administrator’s Workshops, National Classifier Workshops, and Classification of new players to ensure Africa is fully represented at the debut of Para badminton at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. One such training was the one done in Nigeria in 2019 involving players and coaches where Eniola was discovered.
The BCA has endeavored to conduct Para badminton workshops and training camps every year in over 20 of their Member Associations. In 2018 the BCA collaborated with the BWF, AGITOS Foundation, and 5 African countries to host the first-ever Para-Badminton course in Africa. 12 Coaches from Cameroon, Congo DRC, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda were trained. Further to this success, in 2019, another course was organized by the BCA in Nigeria and 20 Coaches from Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Central Africa, Congo DRC, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. A total of 31 players from these countries were also trained.