A Papua New Guinean teenager who took up badminton less than a year ago and had never travelled overseas has just returned home a silver medallist, after an extraordinary journey that began at a community program funded by the Australian Government in Port Moresby and culminated at the VICTOR Oceania Para Badminton Championships in Ballarat, Victoria.
David Joe Kaniku, who is 17 and still at school, began playing para badminton nine months ago through the Shuttle Time inclusive badminton program, which is delivered by Badminton Papua New Guinea in partnership with Badminton Oceania, and funded by the Australian Government through the Pacific Sports Partnerships.
The program creates opportunities for people of all abilities to participate in badminton, works to change perceptions of disability, and includes a partnership with the sport of gymnastics, via PNG Gymnastics Federation, Gymnastics Australia and Oceania Gymnastics Union, to expand activities and accessibility for participants.
Kaniku was one of four PNG players selected to be part of the country’s first international badminton team. His teammates Jerome Bunge, Danny Ten and Nelly Ruth Leva also discovered the sport through the Shuttle Time program. The quartet travelled to the VICTOR Oceania Para Badminton Championships in February, and returned with two silver and two bronze medals between them. The PNG team’s travel to Australia was supported by the Australian High Commission in Papua New Guinea and the Australian Government’s PacificAus Sports program.
“I had never been on a plane so I was more excited than my teammates, but I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” Kaniku admitted. “I had never spoken to or met any Australians before, and this was my first time going overseas and it opened my eyes to so many things.”
Kaniku defeated Australian opponents in the first two round-robin matches in the men’s short stature singles classification, before losing to Australia’s Luke Missen to claim silver. Kaniku also finished second in the men’s short stature doubles exhibition event in which he teamed up with Australia’s Anthony Koedyk.
“I was nervous about playing, but when I realised how friendly and nice everyone was, I just relaxed and played as best as I could, and I won silver,” Kaniku said, revealing that he hopes to go one better and win gold next time.
Bunge, who is a former Para athletics competitor in shot put and javelin, decided to try Para badminton 16 months ago and has not looked back. “I had never won a medal in athletics, so winning silver in the doubles and bronze in the singles (in the standing lower impairment classification) was beyond my expectations,” he said. “I am so thankful to the Australian Government for giving me this opportunity to participate at the Oceania Championships. Next time I want to win gold and, in future, I would like to become a coach for other Para athletes.”
Danny Ten won’s PNG’s fourth and final medal, bronze in the men’s SL3-SU5 classification doubles exhibition event alongside Australia’s Armonrat Jamporn.
The PNG team’s medal haul is all the more extraordinary given that none of them had played on a full-size marked badminton court before the championships. Their preparation for the tournament included a Para badminton development camp in Port Moresby in January, led by Badminton Oceania’s Coaching and Development Officer, Ian Bridge, and PNG-based Regional Development Officer, Kinivanagi Karo.
“The flow-on effect of the team’s success in Ballarat is already having a positive effect on our inclusive program in PNG,” Karo said. “Our Para athletes are maintaining the excitement from the tournament and leading our sessions back here in Port Moresby for participants of all ages and abilities. This has been an awesome opportunity to create new Para athlete role models here, and put PNG on the map in badminton.”