As the Badminton World Championship kicked off at the Emirates Arena on Monday, a quaint 60-year-old with a white t-shirt and a cap was busy chatting with a younger shuttler about the happenings on the court. To the uninitiated, it looked like a normal conversation between a coach and his player.
But here is the twist. The 60-year-old answering to the name of Matthew Fogarty isn’t a coach and will be teaming up with the 29-year-old Nicholas Bonkowsky in the men’s doubles category. The pair will take on Malaysia’s Kah Ming Chooi and Low Juan Chen in the opening round on Tuesday.
No one really will give them a chance to win against the world No 26 Malaysian combination but Fogarty isn’t even thinking of all that as he puts in over an hour of practice with Bonkowsky, who was born and brought up in Canada but is representing his mother’s country Trinidad and Tobago on the international circuit.
Old is gold
“If you ask me about what I aim to do by coming here, I want to put every shuttle back across the net, ensure that I play at my best and if the opponents falter, then try and win the match,” says the oldest man in the competition.
But what drives him to continue the grind to try and qualify for the World Championship (the 2017 edition is the eighth time he has made the cut) when most people his age will settle for a more relaxed life?
“It is just to prove a point to the people in US badminton that if you are good enough then you can play at any age and show the world that badminton is one of the healthiest sport to play,” says Fogarty, who is a physician by profession and has treated war veterans during the Vietnam and Gulf wars.
Fogarty and his partner Dean Schoppe, who was partially blind in the right eye, had qualified for the 2005 IBF World Championship in Anaheim but were denied an entry by the US Badminton Association on the argument that they were old and younger players needed to be given an opportunity.
The pair, which had reached the second round in the 2003 edition, even tried to move Court of Sports Arbitration but failed. However, the incident only intensified Fogarty’s resolve to continue playing longer.
“There was a lot of corruption in US Badminton then under president Paisan (Rangsikitpho) who also the International Badminton Federation Deputy President then. But we decided to fight and qualified for two more world championships,” he added.
Once Schoppe hanged his boots, Fogarty has started playing with younger partners and qualified for the 2015 World Championship in Indonesia with the then 25-year-old Bjorn Seguin, who has now qualified in the singles category.
“I don’t go about finding a young partner. I just ask these guys if they want to try and qualify for the World Championship and if they do we can work together. Last time Bjorn Seguin was overlooked for singles and we managed to qualify for doubles. This time he has qualified for singles,” he adds.
Fogarty began playing badminton at the age of three thanks to the inspiration of his mother Sondra Costello, who at the age of 82 is travelling with the duo and helping them with practice arrangement and would probably sit for their match as a coach. He has won four US national titles in doubles and reached the final of the Manhattan Beach International in 2016 with Seguin and is currently ranked 93rd in the world.
The pair was partially lucky to make the grade for this World Championship since some of the top Thailand, Indonesian pairs withdrew due to the ongoing SEA Games but Fogarty isn’t complaining.
The 60-year-old insists he still trains six days a week while working for 46 hours a week as a physician and is now also been flagging issues within the Badminton World Federation. “There are many issues even within the BWF, including the control of national bodies in deciding careers of players. I will continue to flag them whenever I see something happening.”
That won’t really make him popular among the BWF officials for sure but that is hardly a deterrent for Fogarty.
So does he want to travel to India as well for the World Senior Championship to be held in Cochin next month?
“No, the senior players are very intelligent, I won’t stand a chance against them. Here I can play a bit with some of the youngsters with my experience,” he says with a chuckle.
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