THE POWER OF ASIA: MONGOLIA
In this week’s THE POWER OF ASIA series, Badminton Asia (BA) had the pleasure of interviewing two members of the Mongolian Badminton Association, Secretary General Zulbaatar Galkhuu (Gala) and Coach Byambajav Khuvituguldur (Khuvi). We got an inside look into how badminton has been progressing in the country, the challenges and goals of the organization and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them in this interview.
Secretary General Zulbaatar Galkhuu or ‘Gala’ for short, has always been surrounded by badminton his whole life. The Mongolian Badminton Association was established 1999, which was founded by his father. He has always supported him in it’s development, and since his father’s passing in December of last year, he has taken the role of Secretary General. In 2006 they hosted The Asia Satellite tournament, and since then he’s always been connected to the Mongolian Badminton Association. Coach Byambajav Khuvituguldur or ‘Khuvi’ for short, started his career in badminton 9 years ago. But before he was involved in badminton he played volleyball but decided to become a badminton coach for a new challenge as badminton is a relatively new sport in Mongolia.
In comparison to other countries in Asia, badminton’s presence is still quite small but very much growing. “Badminton is becoming more and more popular now, and now many people are starting to know badminton,” Gala says. “Badminton was known as ‘air tennis’ before, and for the last few years we’ve developed amateur badminton and it’s become more popular among the amateur players”. For amateur badminton, it’s started to grow over the last 9 years, slowly but surely building momentum among the people of Mongolia. Professionally though, they’ve already hosted national and junior championships over the last several years. “In Mongolia we’ve hosted twice the Olympic qualification event, which is an International series in 2015, and in 2019 we hosted an International Challenge as well” he adds.
Both men stated that they have many goals to grow badminton in the future for the federation and for the sport itself. “Our main goal is to increase awareness of badminton because it’s a new sport and people don’t know it yet,” Khuvi says. “I organize courses with organizations for amateurs, and with the juniors and seniors, we implement BWF programs such as shuttle time for them.” Because badminton is not that popular yet, these programs and courses are all implaced to help develop the athletes and to raise awareness of the sport to the public. In addition to this, one of the most important things to them is having a national training center for the athletes to practice in. “Our first challenge is that we need our own hall. We have a multipurpose hall but we can’t use it all the time. We need our own hall.” Khuvi states. “Having a national training center is the most important thing to create elite athletes for Olympic games and world championships and to develop the athletes into more professional and elite players,” says Gala.
However developing athletes into becoming professional players isn’t the only goal that the federation has. “And the other goal is to make badminton popular amongst the public for public health,” Gala adds. “Badminton is also a ‘medicine’ for the people. For example, we had a player who had a stroke but he started to play badminton and after 9 months he became an amateur champion last year” he mentions. Stories like this help inspire the public to take on badminton not only as just a sport to play but for their public health. “We are working on two sides.”
But the road to success is not an easy one and both Gala and Khuvi have had their fair share of challenges in the federation. “For Mongolia, the biggest challenge is the fact that badminton is not that popular, so we have to promote them. After students finish university, they just leave badminton. Our biggest challenge is to keep them in badminton long term.” Gala says. People are starting to be more familiar with the sport but it’s still hard for them to get people to be committed to it. Because of this, it leads them to another issue. “We lack equipment and funding,” says Khuvi. “Funding is less compared to other countries. For Mongolia, compared to other East Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, they have a lot of Olympic medals from the last few Olympic Games. But between us and these other countries, Mongolia is the lowest ” Gala tells us.
The government doesn’t support the badminton national team and the federation as much as they should, in comparison to the other more well-known sports in the country such as judo and wrestling. “But for us, we have to support ourselves, so it’s very hard to keep our athletes on an elite level.” Gala notes. So their next challenge is to qualify for the Olympic games. If they do, according to them, the government will want to support the federation and the national team more.
There are several things that they’ve planned to help boost badminton’s status in the country. “I plan to invite players and other people, and organize a ‘badminton day’ in the near future in November, where I will invite the media to report on the athletes and the event” says Khuvi. He hopes that small events like this will slowly help to develop this sport at a local stage to build the foundation for them to compete at the international stage.
According to Gala, development in another sub-province, Nalaikh, has been growing incredibly fast. “They have boosted the sport in the last 2 years. The person I mentioned who had the stroke is leading there,” he says. “In Nalaikh, they promote the sport to everyone on all levels: daughters, teachers, militaries. They advertise the sport, showing the elite athlete match-ups. There are more than 1000 people at the amateur level. People are really enjoying the sport and badminton is becoming a family sport”. When asked why the development in this region was faster than the other’s it’s because they found the ‘right person’ to help push the sport. “We had shuttle time in other provinces too, but it hasn’t gone too well, but we’re still trying to find the right person to start and promote this (in other regions).”
The difficulty of development has not been helped by the COVID-19 Pandemic, which has also greatly affected the life of the people in Mongolia. “Mongolia is a bordering country with China. The first case was in late January in Wuhan, China and Mongolia started to close the borders and lock down early,” Gala states. “All the schools, everything is closed since February the 20th. Before that, the Mongolian government closed public events, like concerts and sporting events. In January we planned to host the amateur national championship but 7 months later till September 15 everything was locked down.”
Since September 15, the government has allowed events to be resumed. They started to host tournaments, like the national championship and the amateur national championship. According to Gala, more people have participated in this event than ever before. There are more than 200 players who were in the amateur event compared to last year of 145. This shows a positive growth, indicating that participation is increasing, albeit slowly. Now, they’ve already got events lined up. “Our next thing, next month or November we will host the national junior championship and junior team championship, in two different places.” says Gala
The pandemic greatly affected Coach Khuvi and his players. During lockdown, from January - Mid July, they weren’t allowed to do any courses because the halls were all closed. From July to September 1st, he was then allowed to organize small groups outside of the gym and host courses outside, such as Air Badminton. From September onwards, courses started resuming, halls were open and competitions (national and amateur) started to be held. On a personal level, the pandemic has greatly affected their lives as badminton and coaching plays a huge part of their income, so it became difficult for them to survive during this time. However now that courses have begun to start, we hope that things can only get better from here.
Despite the challenges they’ve faced, the federation has many aspirations for next year. “The Mongolian Badminton Association has set the goal to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic games,” Gala says. This year, they sent their athletes to Europe to compete in 6 tournaments in countries like Portugal and Slovakia to gain points, however this was also during the same time where COVID-19 cases started to rise dramatically. Unfortunately, their #1 athlete, Batdavaa Munkhbat (who was also BA’s previous Asia Olympic Project (AOP) athlete) was in lockdown in the Czech Republic for 6 months, and only came back safely in mid June! Things didn’t go according to plan but they hope that in January they are able to send their athletes to Thailand to play some games to help qualify for the Olympic games. One of these players is Sumiyasuren Enkhbat, who is our current AOP player. He recently won the national championship, and Gala and Khuvi hope that he can qualify for the games once the circuit ends in May.
In addition to qualifying for the Olympics, Khuvi states that there are other things they must achieve. “My plan for the next year is to find sponsors, individuals or organizations, and propose our plans.” This is done in hopes to secure more funding and support for the organization. “Secondly, it’s to continue running courses and competitions and to find more promising talents and potential athletes,” he shares with us. Although badminton is relatively small in the country, it’s been continuously growing. We hope that Gala, Khuvi and the federation can continue to develop their programs and host more national and international events to bring badminton into a greater stage in Mongolia.
On behalf of Secretary General Zulbaatar Galkhuu (Gala), Coach Byambajav Khuvituguldur (Khuvi) and the Mongolian Badminton Association, we send our thoughts and prayers to our Japanese coach, Mr. Ishiuro Nobuhisa, as he is fighting the battle against liver cancer. We wish him all the very best.