Mariam Eniolo Bolaji was one of over 70 female Para badminton players from more than 40 countries who have benefitted from scholarships provided through the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Female Participation Grant since 2017.
The Nigerian quickly reaped the benefit of this initiative, remarkably claiming her first major gold in the women's SL3 at April's Spanish Para Badminton International 2021. She stunned Ukraine's experienced player Oksana Kozyna 18-21, 21-14, 21-18 in the final.
Bolaji also made history as the first African to clinch a title at a major Para badminton international competition outside the continent.
“I’m so grateful to the BWF for this opportunity. I’m really happy,” she said. “Since being given the grant, I‘ve met some wonderful people and I hope to win many more tournaments. I have made Africans proud of me."
Nigeria's Mariam Eniolo Bolaji Ⓒ Alan Spink / Badminton World Federation
Eight other BWF-supported female athletes participated in the Spanish Para Badminton International 2021, the final qualifying event before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Annika Schroeder (Germany), Kamilla Malak (Poland), Ilaria Renggli (Switzerland), Viktoriia Arapina (Ukraine), Joana Canudo (Portugal), Inoi Ferreira (Portugal), Lefort Maud (France) and Sophie Van Den Brock (Netherlands) were the ones who benefitted from the grant.
All of them have had the chance to apply for financial support to participate and be internationally classified at a number of BWF sanctioned international Para badminton tournaments. The grant further supports BWF's goal to increase female participation in Para badminton across all sport classes.
Van Den Brock from the Netherlands competed in the women's singles and mixed doubles SL4 events in Spain. Having played competitively for three years at home, this was her first international outing.
“The grant has changed my life. It wasn’t the first sport I started playing but I love playing Para badminton. I play women’s singles and mixed doubles but I think my strength is in mixed. It’s so good to have this opportunity,” she said.
“It’s an honour to represent my country on an international level and it’s thanks to the female grant participation programme that I can do this."
Sophie Van Den Brock of the Netherlands Ⓒ Alan Spink / Badminton World Federation
Portugal's 21-year-old Ferreira also competed in the SL4 category and the first-timer was thrilled with her debut.
“The grant has been an incredible journey for me and started my love of competing in Para badminton. I didn’t enter the Spanish International 2021 with expectations, I just wanted to see what would happen and enjoy the experience,” said Ferreira.
She cited nerves at her first appearance saying: “I was very nervous and I was afraid of being down in the first game so it was difficult to start. I’m excited to play and represent Portugal."
Portugal's Inoi Ferreira Ⓒ Alan Spink / Badminton World Federation