Playing in a headscarf and full-length track pants may present an incongruous sight on a badminton court but ask Doha Hany and Hadia Hosny and they will tell you that it doesn’t hamper their performance at all. “In our country, the attire is totally dependent on personal choice. Usually, girls play in skirts. Headscarves and track pants don’t hinder movement at all,” Hadia said, as her partner nodded.
The Egyptian girls are an odd pair – at 30, Hadia is nine years older than her partner, as they practise a game that has yet to capture their country’s imagination. The north African country is more known as the home of the ‘Pharoahs’, record seven-time continental football champions, and for providing a seemingly unending streak of champion squash players, both men and women. Hadia herself was a squash exponent in her younger days, and even practised gymnastics before an injury prompted her to take up badminton.
On Tuesday, they defeated the American sisters of Thai origin, Sydney and Ariel Lee, 21-9, 21-15 in just 20 minutes. “This is our third season together and aim to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics,” Hadia, who teaches at the British University in Egypt, said. Before one thinks that the goal seems unrealistic, Hadia is already a veteran of two Olympics -Beijing and London – before narrowly missing out on Rio 2016.
“Coming from Africa, we needed to be inside the top 50 in world rankings at the end of the qualification period, but me and my previous mixed doubles partner were 51,” she said in a matter-of-fact manner. That “previous mixed doubles partner” for Hadia happens to be Doha’s present fiancé, who has not only coached the 21-year-old in her sporting endeavours and also arranged for the funds for her to travel the world for competition.
“Badminton in Egypt is not like it’s in Asia. There people mostly play it for fun. Playing competitively is not very common,” Hadia said. That’s why they have had to travel to tournaments at their own expense. “Maybe, once the Olympic qualification cycle starts, our trips abroad will be financed. But we’re spending our own money now to keep our ranking sufficiently high.”
Doha started playing badminton at five and represented her country at the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing. Badminton players are often paired together after a lot of analysis and deliberation, but Doha and Hadia can attribute their combination to necessity and a lack of alternatives. “The next best player in Egypt was 15 years old, so we hardly had any option,” the older player said. But playing together doesn’t mean they train together. “We live in the same city but an hour apart. Hence, we can only train perhaps once a week,” Hadia informed.
She plans to hang her racquet after, hopefully, playing at the Olympics next year, and has already started working on grooming budding Egyptian shuttlers.
The Hadia Hosny Badminton Academy is providing guidance towards that endeavour. “There is a lack of qualified coaches in Egypt. We have nobody travelling with us. Sometimes coaches with other teams provide us tips and tell us what we’re doing wrong. We were not expecting to win today. I’d only taken two days’ leave from my job. Now I’ll have to ask for more,” she said.