Sophie van den Broek and Joshua Donker played on behalf of the Netherlands in Para Badminton at the European Para Championships 2023. We talk to both of them about the tournament and Para Badminton in the Netherlands.
“The most important thing is to have fun”, begins Sophie, when we ask if the top athletes have any advice for beginning Para Badminton players. “Fun is very important”, Joshua adds. “If you have the ambition to get better, you also have to understand that professional sport is not always fun. You have to have a goal to pursue. Once you achieve that, of course, it’s super fun again.”
“This European Championship is very nice for a para-athlete and for Para Badminton. It is a sport that is a little less known, but still a lot of people come to watch”, Sophie says. “You do see that Wheelchair Basketball is a lot more popular, but there are also a lot of people there who come to watch Para Badminton again”, Joshua hooks up. “I’ve never during a tournament had that much of a crowd”, he added.
“That gives extra motivation. Sometimes I have exciting matches and then I think ‘Oh yeah, my parents are there too, and my friends,’” Sophie reveals. “It’s actually like no other tournament. I do go well at it. Of course, one person has more excitement because of it, but I personally notice that I can handle it very well when all the people in the audience are screaming”, Joshua says with a big smile.
For Joshua, the 2023 European Para Championships are extra special. He is quitting Para Badminton at the highest level. This is his last tournament. “My top sports career is over”, he said. The main reason is the financial picture. “It costs me a lot of money and there is just very little funding in the Netherlands.” From the Dutch sports organization NOC*NSF there is too little money available for Para Badminton.
“The future of Para Badminton is getting better, but too slowly”, Sophie says. “It’s just not enough to live on. Even with four sponsors you don’t make ends meet”, Joshua reveals. “Every year some new people join, at least broadly speaking. But it grows very slowly”, Sophie continues. Having so many people in the stands during EPC2023 at Para Badminton gives the athletes hope, however, and both look back on the tournament very positively.
“Although I didn’t win my last match, it was a good match. I can look back on a good tournament”, Sophie says. Joshua shares that sentiment: “It’s nice to end my career like this. I played some really nice matches. Matches that don’t happen very often, like my set of 29-30. For me personally, with my family and friends there… It was just crazy to end it like that.”