The Pacific Islands are a unique group of countries and islands. They are tucked away in the westernmost and easternmost parts of the world, with some countries crossing the international date line.
Among the remoteness, the Cook Islands are one of the last countries in the world to see out the day. They are also one of the leading examples of badminton in the Pacific, utilising the Shuttle Time programme to increase participation across the island.
Like many of the Pacific Islands, the nation responded quickly to the development of COVID-19 as they do not benefit from the same health systems and support compared to many western nations. Just like their neighbours, the Cook Islands went straight into a compulsory lockdown, but were able to resume a semi-normal life after just three weeks.
In the pre-lockdown era, badminton was having to compete with the likes of netball, soccer and rugby which prevail as the most popular sports. However, the government restrictions did not allow these contact sports to take place once the lockdown was lifted, creating opportunity for badminton to capitalise on their previous momentum.
“It became badminton’s responsibility to provide something for the kids,” said Thomas Mereana-Ngauru.
As soon as badminton was allowed to take place, the balloons were out and the fundamentals of badminton became the talk of the town. Many of the government buildings and sports facilities remained closed, so Badminton Cook Islands secured the use of a hostel with space for two badminton courts to run Shuttle Time sessions for enthusiasts.
Lead by the trained teachers and Shuttle Time alumni-turned junior national squad players, the team were able to assist the sessions following an influx of interest. With reduced space, the team upped the ante and began delivering Shuttle Time sessions daily, splitting the groups into smaller classes so the children can get maximum badminton action.
“We wanted to make sure the kids had fun activities to look forward, especially while other sporting codes were out of action. Their reactions have been incredible – lots of smiling faces and we’re confident many kids will continue to stay part of our badminton community,” said Thomas.
Most of the fresh faces are aged between 9 and 12, but their accompanying parents have become just as eager to get involved. So much that the Cook Islands are introducing their first Family Tournament using the Shuttle Time equipment to take place on ‘Ui Ariki Day’ – a public holiday which celebrates the history of the nation’s chiefs and traditional leaders.
As the world continues to battle on with the COVID-19 pandemic, the borders remain closed. However, Shuttle Time continues to prosper and bring joy into the lives of hundreds of children across the Cook Islands.