Badminton star to achieve dream of participating in Olympics | Sunday Observer

Badminton star to achieve dream of participating in Olympics

20 June, 2021

Badminton star Niluka Karunaratne is one of the few sportsmen who will represent Sri Lanka at the Olympic Games to be held in Japan next month.

After the Olympics he hopes to represent the country in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games before he retires from the sport. He is also the only male in Sri Lanka’s contingent to the Games.

The Youth Observer caught up with him to discuss his success.

Q: Niluka, congratulations on being selected to represent the country at the Olympics. How do you feel about the achievement?

A: I am very happy that I was selected for the Tokyo Olympics. I have come to this stage through hard work.

Q: Is it true that you have participated in a large number of tournaments than the other players which enabled you to be selected for the Olympics?

A: That is totally wrong. When you look at the others who qualified to take part in the Olympics you will find that I had taken part only in a few tournaments compared to the others.

Q: What are the tournaments you took part in to earn this qualification?

A: I went to Peru and Portugal to take part in badminton tournaments. It gave me the chance to reach Olympic standards.

Q: It is not easy for anyone to travel abroad due to the Covid pandemic. How did you overcome that challenge?

A: It was not an easy task. But, as I was determined to represent the country at the Olympics I worked hard and succeeded.

Q: Peru is a Latin American country and situated far from our country. Wasn’t it difficult to travel to that country?

A: I am a sportsman. I think real sportsmanship can achieve any task that they set their minds to. In the beginning of my sports career I travelled abroad alone and it was a good experience for me. That experience helped me to travel to Peru and back.

Q: Peru has been badly affected by the pandemic. Yet you travelled to that country. Weren’t you afraid to travel there? What was your experience?

A: As a sportsman I went there with the utmost difficulty. However, sports activities are continuing around the world in spite of the pandemic. As a sportsman I could not stop my daily routine just because of the pandemic.

In Peru, I was put into a bio bubble before the tournament began. In fact the tournament was conducted in a bio bubble. After the tournament was over I had a lot of trouble with regard to returning to the country. However, I managed to return.

Q: Could you describe your experiences in travelling to Portugal?

A: After the tournament in Peru, I had planned to go to Portugal to compete in a major tournament. The problem was that I was not a European citizen. Due to the pandemic, Europe had closed its airports to non-Europeans. Due to this I was unable to board a flight to Portugal.

However, following discussions the Sri Lanka Badminton Association and I had with Embassies and airline officials I was able to travel to Madrid and Lisbon too. I performed well in the Portugal tournament which helped me win a place in the Sri Lankan contingent to the Olympic Games.

Q: Did travel restrictions cause a delay in you being selected to take part in the Games?

A: There is no travel ban as such in the world. However, sometimes the airport is closed suddenly and restrictions are imposed. As sportsmen we must find answers to these questions. I have overcome travel problems in the past and I am sure I will overcome them in the future too.

Q: You have been the national champion for about 20 years. At the last nationals you announced your retirement from badminton. However, now you hope to take part in the Olympics. Did you change your mind?

A: I have been involved in national level badminton for the past 21 years and been champion for nearly two decades and as I did not have any motivation to stay in the national badminton arena I announced my retirement. However, I would like to take part in international tournaments.

Q: For how many years do you plan to compete in the international arena?

A: I think around one year. I like to compete in the Commonwealth and Asian Games too. After those tournaments I wish to completely retire.

Q: Niluka Karunaratne is a brand in the Sri Lankan badminton arena. Do you think the standard will drop after you retire?

A: No, it will not drop. Youngsters are taking up badminton. They have a responsibility to maintain and build the game. Some time ago there was not much recognition for the game in the country. But it is not so. We were the pioneers in bringing the game to the present level.

Q: In your younger days badminton did not have a good culture. We have heard that newcomers had to undergo ragging sessions? After winning the national title you changed this culture. Would you like to comment?

A: In my early days I too faced this rag period. I also saw that most of the players who participated in international tournaments did not have enough training. Sometimes they played matches without a warmup.

I thought these must be changed to improve badminton. In that era girls could not compete in a safe environment. After I became national champion I took action to stop ragging and created a good environment for girls to play safely. That culture will continue to be maintained in the future too.

Q: Being involved in one sport for two decades is not easy especially as badminton is not an easy game. How did you manage it?

A: Of course badminton is a hard game. But, I love this game and have been continuously involved in this game up to now.

Q: How many hours do you spend practicing per day?

A: Normally I spend six hours per day which is not an easy task for a player. However, I did it. In international workshops I did around eight hours per day. It depends on one’s circumstances.

Q: Who are the people who helped you on this journey?

A: I thank every Sports Minister from 1999 and also every Badminton Association officials who encouraged me to come this far on this journey.

I specially thank the present Badminton Association Chairman Rohan de Silva. He helped me and other players, coaches or others involved in this game. Present secretary Mohan Wijesinghe and the present administration must also be thanked.

The National Olympic committee has also done admirable work to help me and I thank them too. I convey my special thanks to the present Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.