Food for thought from Anna Rice

Saina’s former doubles partner is keen to begin India initiative after Ugandan experience

Dev S Sukumar. Birmingham

March 10: The international badminton circuit is a mostly insular one; few bother or express concern over what happens outside it. The only exceptions so far have been Saina Nehwal’s friend and former doubles partner, Anna Rice, and her husband and fellow-international Bobby Milroy. The two are part of a foundation called ‘Right to Play’, which uses sport to engage communities affected by war, poverty and disease. Rice, who travelled to two refugee camps in Uganda (Nakiwale, with 45,000 refugees and Kyangwai, with 20,000) last year and conducted badminton sessions for them, is now keen to use Saina’s growing stature to push for initiatives in India.

“We are trying to get more players involved with Right To Play,” Rice told DNA. “And as Saina gets more known in India, I’m hoping she’d want too help us out. We gain so much from sport, we get a chance to develop ourselves and gain self-confidence, and concentration, and all the great life-skills. That’s what Right To Play does. They try and help kids in developing countries. They don’t have a programme in India yet, but they want to expand.”

Rice is well informed of global issues, having done her Masters in international development at university. She sees a larger responsibility for sportsmen, rather than just an obsession with their sport. “When you travel to countries in Africa and even Indonesia or parts of China, you see a lot of poverty. But still you see kids playing, no matter what their situation is. They need to play, it’s part of our healthy human development. I spent three months last spring in Uganda. That was really great experience, but it was also hard. In the refugee camps they have nothing, compared to what we are used to. But you put a racket in their hands, and their faces light up. They haven’t even heard of the Olympics, they have no idea who you are, and they don’t care. I will be going there again next year. I’m very excited to go to India for the Commonwealth Games; maybe there is something we could do. I’m hoping Saina will help us out.”

Although they no longer play together — Saina is concentrating on her singles career — the two go back a long way. Saina’s international career began when she was barely in her teens. The two hit it off well, they’d room together to save costs. “We were travelling together and we were on our own,” Rice says. “She was younger, so I took her under my wing. We got along well, she taught me about Bollywood. We’d go out shopping or to eat out… she was only 16, quite young for someone to be on their own. Her progress has been phenomenal. We need more individual character in badminton. That’s why I hope Saina comes up in India and becomes a role model for girls.”

Right To Play was born during the early 1990s as part of an initiative called Olympic Aid, in preparation for the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway. Its first ambassador was the Norwegian speed-skater Johann Olav Koss, and it raised $ 18 million to build schools, hospitals and other projects in Sarajevo, Eritrea, Guatemala and Afghanistan. Apart from raising money, it collects sports equipment and distributes it to affected communities.

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About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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