Dan Bethell talks to My Icon about para-badminton, Andy Murray and inclusivity

Dan Bethell talks to My Icon about para-badminton, Andy Murray and inclusivity

Britain's rising star of the sport, who swapped tennis balls for shuttlecocks as a teenager, has come a long way since 2013 when he played his first international tournament.

Not only is he the current European champion in men's singles, having two years ago successfully defended the title he first won in 2014, but he can also boast three World Championship bronze medals.

"In badminton, the main competition is in Asia, not Europe, so to be able to show I can compete with the best countries in the world was really special for me," he tells My Icon, which returns to Sky Sports Mix this week to mark National Inclusion Week.

Bethell currently competes as an SL3 athlete and as a result, plays half court in singles and full court in doubles. Players within this classification have lower limb disabilities which restrict their movement.

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As he's started to taste success on the badminton court, one British sportsman in particular has had a real influence on him - Sir Andy Murray.

Bethell says: "Seeing how Andy copes with pressure, like he had when he was trying to win Wimbledon... I'm not saying I have anywhere near the pressure that he did, but I'm starting to get expectations on me to win, so he's always been a massive role model for me to see how he deals with that pressure and how he handles it."

Alongside his intense training and competition schedule, Bethell can also be found breaking down barriers in a different type of court altogether.

"I've always found that my badminton's good, but it's better when I've had something else to focus on," he explains.

"Being able to juggle an intense law degree with sport, it just shows that if I can do it, anyone can. It can be a bit time consuming, especially around exams and just getting that work-life balance, but it really does help me."

It is less than two years until the para-badminton world descends on Tokyo to make its Paralympic debut and for Bethell, his focus is firmly on staying in the world's top six so he can qualify to be there when it does.

"The future of para-badminton is exciting, because everything at the moment is firsts," he says.

"The standard of the tournaments is getting frightening really. Every single tournament is just getting better and better, more countries are coming up, and more countries are putting money into it. It's getting a lot more professional, so it's just going to grow and grow."

Having previously been a self-funded sport with the onus on the individual to find sponsorship, British para-badminton athletes like Bethell now benefit from having a GB programme that is well supported and funded.

Since the sport was accepted into the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic programme, it now includes a grant from UK Sport and that in turn has led to a heavy investment into a full-time programme.

It is something Bethell describes as having been "life-changing for everyone", giving them the best possible platform to be able to go forward and challenge for medals in two years time.

Training at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield alongside established para table tennis and wheelchair basketball has also had its benefits too during this Paralympic cycle.

"They're obviously very established programmes and we're a new programme, so to have that interaction has been brilliant," he says.

"We are starting to get those links with other sports and hopefully that will grow because we can share experiences."

Bethell has fond memories of London 2012. "The platform it gave to the Paralympics was amazing. All the tickets were sold out and I struggled to get them myself!

"We've got the platform now and we've got those household names like the Jonnie Peacocks, Hannah Cockcrofts, Ellie Simmonds - there are people there to aspire to, so it's about taking what they gave us in 2012 and really using that legacy."

Bethell wants to build upon that legacy by using his platform as an elite athlete and also his own personal experiences - positive and negative - at all levels of sport to help champion inclusive sport, which will see para-athletes integrated into clubs alongside able-bodied athletes, whatever their level.

"The biggest problem that people with disabilities have is their parents when they find out they've got a child with a disability. They obviously don't know what they can do.

"They maybe think they won't be able to cope playing with other kids, and stuff like that. I think most sports now, badminton in particular, have been very good at getting disability inclusive clubs and almost disability-specific sports clubs to get people to go and try sport and get into it, and meet new people who are going through the same sorts of things.

"Those disability clubs should be included in more able-bodied clubs.

"Able-bodied people I find will benefit from being involved with more disabled people - coaches in particular. They'll learn new skills because they've got new challenges - you've got somebody in a wheelchair, or somebody with cerebral palsy, who can't necessarily do the same things as an able-bodied player.

"We'll never have true inclusivity until we have able-bodied people and disabled people joining together in clubs all around the world."

Don't miss Dan Bethell on the latest series of My Icon from 6pm on Tuesday - All My Icon episodes are also available on Demand.

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