By Carolee Walker, Staff Writer, America.gov
United States hopes to host Iranian team in July
Washington - No one was more disappointed than the eight female athletes of USA Badminton when the players learned they would not be competing in a world-class tournament in Iran.
"When the time came, we knew for certain that we couldn't go, we were all just so sad," said Mesinee "May" Mangkalakiri, 25, of Garden Grove, California, who competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Eight female athletes representing USA Badminton, including two U.S. Olympians, traveled to Dubai of the United Arab Emirates on their way to Tehran, where the team had hoped to compete in the Fajr International Badminton Tournament February 5 to 8 at the invitation of the Iranian Badminton Federation. The entire U.S. team comprised 12 Americans including coaches and officials.
Members of the USA Badminton Team, who were selected for an international
tournament in Iran
The players were unable to travel from Dubai to Tehran because the Iranian consulate in Dubai did not issue visas to members of the team in time for them to compete. (See "Iran Does Not Provide Visas for U.S. Badminton Team.")
"I was really looking forward to playing in an international tournament," said Eva Lee, 22, from Orange, California, adding that she had been eager to experience Iranian culture. "I have several Iranian friends," said Becky Neumann, 17, of Manhattan Beach, California, "and I love kebabs," a popular food in Iran.
The international badminton event in Tehran was sanctioned by the Badminton World Federation and results would have counted toward each player's international ranking.
"I know the Iranian Badminton Federation really wanted us to be there," Mangkalakiri said. "In Dubai, everybody was so friendly and happy to see us, and they were excited for us and the program we were involved in."
PLAYERS BROUGHT COLORFUL HEAD SCARVES
State Department officials from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, who coordinated the trip, met with the athletes before their departure for Tehran and told them to expect the Iranian people to receive them warmly.
"You will be welcomed in Iran," said an official, who noted that Iranians are known to be friendly and exceedingly polite. "This is part of their culture - take time to get to know the Iranians you meet."
While in public in Iran or in the presence of males, the athletes were told, they would need to cover their heads with scarves. Told that Iranian women prefer bright colors, the athletes brought a variety of head scarves with them, including leopard, floral and plaid patterns.
During badminton practice and competition, when only females would have been present in the arena, the athletes would have worn their team USA uniforms without covering their heads.
EXPANDED EXCHANGES WITH IRAN
In addition to being an important international competition for USA Badminton athletes, the Iranian visit was in response to the Obama administration's call for expanded exchanges with Iran.
Since 2006, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department has hosted more than 250 Iranians, including artists, athletes and medical professionals, in a broad range of educational, professional and cultural exchange programs for the first time since 1979.
Through its Sports United program, the State Department brought the Iranian national teams for basketball, water polo and weightlifting and members of the men's and women's national table tennis teams to the United States. The State Department sent 20 members of USA Wrestling to Iran to compete in the prestigious Takhti Cup in January 2007. (See "United States Seeks To Engage the Iranian People.")
USA Badminton still hopes to host the Iranian athletes through the State Department exchange in July at the 2009 Yonex/OCBC U.S. Open Grand Prix Championships in Orange, California. "If the Iranian team comes, we'll show them around," Mangkalakiri said.
BADMINTON A POPULAR WORLD SPORT
Badminton has been played around the world since the 1930s and became an Olympic sport in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992. According to U.S. Badminton Federation spokesman Cecil Bleiker, badminton is the second most popular participation sport in the world after soccer. Unlike in the tournament in Tehran, badminton is usually played with both males and females on the same team. "Badminton is the only sport in the Olympics where the team is mixed," Bleiker said.
USA Women's Badminton head coach Wendy Carter, who traveled to Dubai with the team, said badminton is the fastest racket sport and eye injuries are a risk. "The shuttle, or bird, travels upwards of 200 miles per hour [322 kilometers per hour]," Carter said.
Because both the rackets and the strings are fragile, the badminton players each brought four rackets on the trip. Many of them also carried squash rackets, which are useful for workouts because they are heavier than badminton rackets, Carter said.
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