During the summer of 2004, following a two-year stint playing badminton for professional clubs in Denmark, I returned to Canada. After having taken a five-year hiatus from my education, I wanted to commence my tertiary studies at the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo). Once arriving in Waterloo I was unsure if I would find anywhere to play badminton, but I quickly discovered that the Kitchener- Waterloo badminton club had a rich history in the sport, and while attending UWaterloo in the fall I discovered that the University had a varsity team, and a badminton club, which was the largest club on campus.
During my time at UWaterloo, I worked towards a degree in Social Development Studies with a minor in Management Studies, all while competing on the varsity badminton team, and coaching part time at the K-W Badminton Club. Throughout that time, I continued to ponder how it was that Canada consistently had a large group of individuals who play badminton while the only team that existed at that time was on the varsity circuit.
For the most part, badminton is an individual sport. However, my varsity years at UWaterloo brought out an amazing camaraderie among the players, which lead to an overall feeling of excitement for every one of us on the team. For me, it was a chance to relive my glory days where I competed at national team events, and within team leagues in Denmark and Jamaica. Once again, I found myself surrounded by the support of talented team members and engaged audiences. That overall sense of support and fellowship far surpassed the feeling of being alone on the court.
While keeping the excitement of varsity badminton and my various league experiences top of mind, I made a conscious decision to focus on three things during my third year of university. 1) I wanted to complete my degree, as I had given up five years to compete in my sport of choice and now felt I owed it to myself to invest in an education. 2) I wanted to make another attempt at the Olympics - provided I was still injury free by the time I graduated. And 3) My goal was to create a badminton league that would both unite and commercialize the sport within North America.
In the months leading up to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, and during my own Olympic campaign, I took some time to research existing leagues throughout Europe and Asia. Coupled with the experiences I had while competing in leagues in Jamaica (where I initially learned the sport), as well as personal time spent in both Malaysia and Denmark where I trained leading up to my arrival at the University of Waterloo, I formulated a plan that would ensure that badminton in Canada and the USA would soar to greater heights.
In 2013, while running a ‘test season’ on a very small scale and a low budget across the GTA, the idea proved to be a success. Thanks to funding, and a little bit of tweaking, we were soon able to run our business on a much larger scale.
In late 2014, our Ignite Badminton League (IBL) business was officially launched. We ran a pilot season from January to May of 2015 in York and Peel regions; that season featured 9 teams and 75 players. IBL gathered a lot of success from the pilot season and expanded to 30 teams and 265 players this past year, and we recently expanded into the Waterloo region. Next season, IBL has its sights set of expanding into other regions across Ontario, as well as into Alberta and British Columbia.
In Canada and the U.S., tremendous crowds – and an impressive fan base – are part and parcel of what the NHL, NFL and the NBA experience is all about. Similarly, in Europe and Asia, large audiences gather together to cheer on badminton athletes and watch opponents compete in riveting matches. Up next, Ignite Badminton League has every intention of bringing that same kind of passion and growth to the sport of badminton here in North America.