Resident sure to win badminton's richest prize in region

This month's UAE Badminton Open, the most lucrative in the region, will be restricted to residents for the first time in the event's 25-year history.

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DUBAI // This month's UAE Badminton Open, the most lucrative in the region, will be restricted to residents for the first time in the event's 25-year history. Boasting a Dh50,000 prize fund, the three-week tournament, which will start on May 31 at Dubai's India Club, has traditionally been open to overseas professionals who have enjoyed a monopoly on the silverware and prize money. But the event organisers have changed the entry rules in a bid to create a level playing field and increase participation in the sport.

"We are trying to encourage participation among UAE residents," explained Bhatra Chachara, the India Club general manager. "What we've seen in previous years is professionals entering and walking away with the top prizes. When locals residents come to know that the professionals will dominate, they stop participating. "So we're encouraging local players to join in which will help us build up the game within the country. We're open to any nationality, just as long as you're a UAE resident."

Chachara's sentiments were echoed by Raman Nair, of Western Union Finance Services, the Open's chief sponsors. "We are trying to take this event to communities outside of the Indian community," said Nair. "Specifically the Chinese, Filipino and Indonesians who share the same passion for the game we do." The tournament has enjoyed a steady increase in entrants over the past three years and with the competition boasting 25 categories - covering age groups ranging from Under 10s to Over 55s [senior veteran doubles] - Chachara is expecting another record number of participants for this year's edition.

"This tournament has been going from strength-to-strength," he said. "In 2007, we had 290 participants; in 2008 we went up to 320 entries and last year we had a record 360 entries.We had 336 matches played over a period of three weeks last year, and we hope to break that record." The majority of the Dh50,000 prize will be allocated to the respective winners of the men's and women's singles and doubles categories. Meanwhile, Sunil Singh, the India Club chairman, highlighted the tournament's significance in growing the game in the region.

"In spite of the challenging economic times we are maintaining our prize money, which is the richest badminton competition anywhere in the Gulf," said Singh. "For many years we have been the UAE's major supporter of badminton and have set the trend. I believe it is only now that other clubs are coming up with badminton tournaments of their own. We need to keep promoting the game because our role is very important for UAE badminton."

The club's grassroots ethos was further evidenced with the announcement of a new category for children with special needs. "Last year we had a couple of exhibition matches for special needs kids," said Chachara. "We've expanded that by incorporating a separate category and we've already had confirmations of participation from the SNF School, as well as the Dubai Autism Centre. "We'll look at the capabilities of each special needs child individually. If they can compete with children from the mainstream events, then we will organise the matches."

In addition to the special needs segment, AK Prakashan, a member of the India Club's board of directors for sport, revealed two other new fields for the 2010 event. "This year we have added two categories because of popular demand from players and parents," said Prakashan. "We have introduced Under 16 singles categories for both boys and girls, taking our total number of categories to 25 across all age groups."

What: UAE Badminton Open When: May 31-June 18 Where: India Club, Dubai Entry fees: Dh25-Dh50 Information: