Punjab's son Abhinav Manota is New Zealand's badminton hope at the Tokyo Olympics

Abhinav Manota
Abhinav Manota
Suhas Nayse

Former Punjab state badminton champion Abhinav Manota is set to represent New Zealand in the Tokyo Olympics 2021 in the men’s singles. Although Abhinav Manota is ranked 91 in the world, he has sealed his berth through the Oceania quota.

The 29-year-old Abhinav Manota is a three-time champion at the Oceania Badminton Championships, which helped him make the cut for the Summer Olympics.

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Badminton New Zealand, the governing body of sports in New Zealand, has cleared the selection of Abhinav Manota, and they are expecting formal approval from the New Zealand Olympic Committee and New Zealand Government.

Once the New Zealand sports ministry gives its final clearance, Abhinav Manota will catch the flight to Tokyo next month. The postponed Tokyo Olympics will get underway on July 23.

If all goes well in the next few days, Abhinav Manota will be the first Indian origin shuttler to represent any country in the Olympics. Abhinav Manota started his badminton game at Hansraj Badminton Stadium in Jalandhar when he was barely eight-years-old.

“We are all waiting for the final green signal from the New Zealand Olympic committee and NZ Government. It is expected to be next week. It will be a great honor for us if our son plays in the Tokyo Olympics. We are desperately waiting for that magic moment,” said Lovleen Kumar and Rajni Bala, parents of Abhinav Manota.

Abhinav Manota shifted to NZ in 2014 and acquired citizenship in 2019

Ever since Abhinav Manota shifted to New Zealand in 2014, he continued his passion of playing badminton. The tall right-hander excelled in both singles and doubles on their domestic circuit. His versatile display earned him a world ranking of 91 in the singles and 66 in the men’s doubles with his partner Oliver Leydon-Davis of New Zealand.

His career best singles ranking was 85 in February 2021, when he completed a hat-trick of winning the Oceania Championships.

In its bid to expand the horizon, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) have a policy to give a chance to lesser-known nations to compete at the biggest Games. The qualification process has cast its net wide to include participants from as many outposts as possible. This unique policy of inclusion means Abhinav Manota gets in on the basis of his Oceania Zone geo-tag.

Abhinav Manota
Abhinav Manota

Lovleen Kumar, 61, was himself a good badminton player and had represented India at the World Veterans Championships. He always wanted his son to pursue badminton and make him proud one day.

“Abhinav became Punjab senior state champion in 2012. He then started playing the All India Ranking Tournament and Nationals. He also competed in some international tournaments like the Syed Modi Grand Prix in Lucknow and Tata Open in Mumbai but he could not get the desired results. He used to lose in the early rounds against seeded players,” said Abhinav’s father Lovleen Kumar.

After graduating from Punjab University, Abhinav Manota decided to do a management degree from the Abacus Institute of Studies, Christchurch.

“He spent a year in Christchurch, where he stayed with his cousin Pavitar. He then started playing in local tournaments. He moved to Auckland on the insistence of New Zealand doubles player Dylan Soedjasa. He got New Zealand citizenship in 2019. He also trains the kids in Auckland now,” said Lovleen Kumar.

As soon as he acquired the New Zealand citizenship, Abhinav Manota started playing with Oliver Leydon Davis as a NZ pair. They did quite well together and won three BWF doubles titles, including Dutch International and Bulgarian International tournaments in 2019.

However, Abhinav Manota’s best moment so far on the court happened in 2019 at the New Zealand Open, a BWF Super 300 event. He got to play against two-time Olympic and five-time world champion Lin Dan. Although the Chinese legend handed him a 6-21, 7-21 thrashing, Abhinav will remember that day for the rest of his life.

Edited by Nikhil Vinod


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