BENGALURU: In The Netherlands, where football dominates the sporting scenario, enthusiasm for badminton hasn’t really gathered steam. That the country has a total of only seven players in the top 50 of Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings across categories tells the story. Of the seven, only Mark Caljouw is a singles player, in the men's category.
For the 23-year-old, the road has not been easy. As the sport battles for popularity, sponsorship and support are hard to come by. There was a slight upward trend after Mia Audina won a silver medal for The Netherlands in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Audina, who had also won a silver medal for Indonesia in the 1996 Games, managed to popularise the sport in the country but the enthusiasm died down gradually.
“It’s a difficult affair to be a badminton player in The Netherlands. There was a bit of enthusiasm after Audina won the silver but that was long ago and it’s hardly popular anymore. Matches are not on TV and thus it doesn’t attract support or any kind of sponsorship. Funding for the singles category was also cut as they wanted to focus on doubles,” Caljouw said.
However, fighting adversities, Caljouw is offering new hope for the country. The former European junior silver medallist, who followed the footsteps of his mother and brothers to the sport, is currently ranked 35th in the world. Making steady progress, he had achieved a career-best ranking of 25 in June last year. However, lack of competition in his home country has forced him to become a journeyman, roaming around the world to play against the best.
“The competition isn’t great, especially in singles. There are not many coaches either. I couldn’t afford to take a coach with me to a lot of tournaments. To be a regular in the top 10 or 20, you need to play the best more often. So I spend most of the year playing abroad,” said the player. Last year, he defended his Orleans Masters title and also finished runners-up in the US Open besides managing two other semifinal finishes.
Caljouw has landed a contract with Hyderabad Hunters in the Premier Badminton League. Although he has the second lowest price tag (Rs 7 lakh or €8,600 approx) among foreign players, it doesn’t bother him. The chance to rub shoulders with PV Sindhu and other top players convinced him to be a part of the league. Caljouw also has a decent record in his debut season. Of the seven matches, the only Dutchman in the league managed four wins, losing to former World No 1 Viktor Axelsen, current World No 9 Tommy Sugiarto and World Tour Finals semifinalist Sameer Verma.
“My target is to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and to do that I need to be in the top 16. I need to play against the best. I have learned a lot competing against them and seeing them play. Although I don’t have much time to implement those changes before Olympic qualification events, it will help me in future,” said Caljouw.