Maldives to revive Maldives International after three years in doldrum
The popular Maldives International Challenge which attracted the likes of current Olympic and world champion Carolina Marin of Spain and Olympic silver medallist P.V. Sindhu before will be revived this year.
Badminton Association of Maldives general-secretary Ishfan Mohamed said there are "big plans" for badminton with the financial help coming from the Maldives government. The shuttle sport is the third most popular sport in the island nation. Football tops the list followed by basketball and volleyball joint second.
The Maldives International Challenge was held from 2010 to 2013 before it went into hiatus. Marin and Sindhu, both of whom played in last year's Rio Olympics final for the women's gold match were the star attraction in 2012.
That was the year when Sindhu beat Marin for the Maldives title. India's rising star B. Sai Praneeth won the men's singles title the same year, defeating Malaysia's Zulfadli Zulkifli in the final.
Praneeth, won his first Superseries title two weeks ago when he beat compatriot K. Srikanth for the Singapore Open title.
According to Ishfan, who is in Wuhan, China for the 2017 Wuhan, City of Automobile Badminton Asia Championships, badminton is on the rise in Maldives with 12 national shuttlers - six men and six women - paid salaries by the government.
"This is a big boost for the sport in Maldives. With the players on the government payroll there is keen fight for a place in the national team from a squad of 25," said Ashfan, who himself is a former national doubles champion with Samiu Ibrahim.
Maldives badminton may not be on par with Asian powerhouse like China, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Taiwan and Thailand but Ashfan believes "it won't be long" for his country to make inroads in the sport.
London Olympics saw Maldives having a player in badminton but Mohamed Azfan failed to go beyond the first round. He competed in the London Olympics through a wild card entry.
Maldives is now targeting the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
For the Asian Championships, Maldives have come with one men's player - Zayan Zaki - and Maisa Fathuhulla Ismail in the women's singles - both of whom had to play in the qualifying rounds.