Pashupati Paneru took up badminton when he was 12 in his far-western hometown of Dhangadi. Encouraged by his cousins and neighbours, he was able to win the first-ever Dhangadi Badminton Championship, and that gave him all the encouragement he needed.
After he took a two-month formal training at the local hall, Pashupati was mentored by a friend from school, Dipendra Shrestha, who saw great potential in him. Pashupati went on to become junior badminton champion twice within the next four years and he took part in his first international match in 1999 at the Asian Junior Championships in Malaysia where he amazed everyone (including himself) by defeating a world-renowned player from Hong Kong.
Since then, Pashupati has participated in many international tournaments such as the Thomas Cup (2000) and the Asian Championships (2002) and has been able to use his international experience to bring home the team event cup in the ninth South Asian Federation games last year in Pakistan.
Pashupati has never looked back since his brother persuaded him to enter that badminton hall in Dhangadi 10 years ago. Today, he receives intensive training from Dipendra Shrestha, who has stayed with his prot?g? and become his coach. Shrestha has always believed in Pashupati's badminton skills, and says: "Pashupati has the ability to understand his opponents and then use his own strengths to defeat them. With training, he can be better than the best."
Few in Nepal can earn a livelihood by becoming professional athletes, but Pashupati wants to give it a shot since he is already earning up to Rs 200,000 a year from his championships. He believes good players can earn a living and be respected for their talent and he sees private sponsorship as the way forward.
Badminton is popular in Nepal because it is cheap and easy to set up and doesn't need much space. In the past few years, the number of badminton tournaments in Nepal have risen, encouraging players and raising the standard of the game. Pashupati feels that with international coaches and training, Nepali players can be as good as the best in the world. "Lack of facilities is the reason for Nepal's poor performance at international games, we have to play on wooden floors here and at international tournaments we play on matted floors. That in itself creates a lot of disparity in our game," he says in between training sessions for the National Badminton Tournament in January.
The Chinese Embassy donating a matted floor to the Tripureswor indoor stadium comes as good news. Now, all we need are badminton tournaments in different parts of the country to encourage talent and keep the game alive.