Fighting the odds to become a champion

- March 9, 2024
| By : Yusra Nazim |

Para badminton player Munna Khalid overcame rejection to master the racquet sport while pursuing studies and achieving academic excellence

HOMECOMING: Munna Khalid being honoured by residents of Khanpur town in Bulandshahr district after he returned home with a medal

Munna Khalid, a Ph.D. scholar and Junior Executive at the National Backward Classes Finance & Development Corporation (NBCFDC), has not only excelled in academics but has also emerged as the torchbearer for para badminton.

Khalid has come a long way since an evening in 2014 when he was ignored from a game of badminton due to his disability. A group of students were engaged in a friendly game of badminton within the Jamia Millia Islamia hostel premises. Khalid expressed interest in joining, but he was asked to wait due to the noticeable wobbly walk he had.

As the game concluded and the group began to dismantle the equipment, Khalid inquired about the chance to play, to which they responded, “It’s dinner time. Please come tomorrow.”

But that disregard did not deter him from picking up sports.

A decade later, Khalid has become an international player in Para Badminton who recently participated in the Para Badminton World Championship that took place in Pattaya, Thailand, from February 20 to 25. He reached the quarterfinals.

FELICITATED: The 29-year-old gets the Delhi State Award for Persons with Disabilities from chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal

Khalid, who lives in Delhi but hails from Bulandshahr in UP, got afflicted with polio when he was just six months old. 

The third eldest among seven siblings, Khalid migrated to the national capital in 2012 for further education after completing his Class 12. He secured admission to Jamia Millia Islamia in BA (Hons) in Hindi, before completing Masters’ degree in Hindi and later an MA in Social Work. Presently, he is pursuing Ph.D. in Hindi literature from the same university.

Khalid took up the sport through a university friend who was part of the university badminton team. His journey began after he learnt about the para category in badminton for individuals like him. Notably, his family, without any history of academic or sporting excellence, provided unwavering moral support.

“After that day in 2014 when I wanted to play badminton but was ignored, I decided to focus on sports. I promised myself that I would play badminton, and one day those guys would come to me and ask me to play with them.” 

Khalid hadn’t planned to take up badminton full-time. He shared his plans with his family, and they responded positively, expressing confidence in his abilities. 

“I did not know back then that I would get deeply involved in badminton one day, but I was eager to join sports from that evening. Within the first six months, those boys came to me and asked me to play with them. It has been a long and tough journey but I did it with dedication and God’s help.”

PODIUM: Munna Khalid getting a bronze medal during the inaugural edition of Khelo India Para Games

Khalid’s official entry into competitive para-badminton commenced in 2015 in a tournament organised by the Rotary Club of United Chennai, where he reached the quarterfinals. 

Although he didn’t win in the quarterfinals, Khalid said, “I have never looked back since then. I learned a lot from that tournament. It motivated me to play more. I hope to win a gold medal one day and hear the national anthem play on the podium because that’s for the winners only.”

When Khalid started playing badminton regularly in 2015, he used to do it standing and didn’t use a wheelchair. But with time, his health deteriorated and he was forced to use a wheelchair in 2019.

Initially, Khalid participated in badminton competitions in the SL3 category, which is designated for players with severe standing/lower limb impairments. However, a significant change occurred during his debut at the international level in Bahrain in May, 2022 when he acquired the ‘WH2’ classification. This classification allowed him to utilise a wheelchair for his matches.

Reflecting on this transition Khalid shared, “I faced financial constraints and couldn’t afford the sophisticated wheelchairs that professional para badminton players use. Instead, I managed to purchase a basic wheelchair from a company in Bengaluru, availing it at a discounted price. I then made some necessary modifications, and since then, this wheelchair has been my companion on the badminton court.”

Despite financial constraints, Khalid’s determination and talent shone through. In 2022, he secured gold (in doubles) and silver (in singles) at an international meet in Uganda and added a bronze at the inaugural Khelo India Para Games in 2023. Recognising his exceptional achievements, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal awarded him the Delhi State Award for Persons with Disabilities.

The 29-year-old achieved everything on his own, getting admission on merit and finding a job not through sports quota but on his own. 

Khalid’s disability was not the only hurdle in front of him.

Hailing from a lower middle-class background, he had to work at several places to make ends meet during his college and school days. 

From the 6th standard onwards, he had to work as compounder in a hospital and sell vegetables and fruits during summer vacations to sustain his studies. 

After shifting to Delhi, he began giving tuitions. 

Khalid shared, “I had to leave my studies in the middle of my MA in Social Work and return to my hometown because I couldn’t afford to pay the semester fees. I worked there for a while and later returned to Delhi after arranging the necessary fees.”

After giving 10 years to badminton and winning numerous awards and medals for India, Khalid still doesn’t have the necessary wheelchair. He has written to the Delhi government and asked several people for it. 

He initiated an online campaign for the same, but unfortunately, no one extended support. Expressing his frustration, he said, “I reached out to many people, but no one came forward to support me. I have been using the basic modified wheelchair for years. During my matches, my opponents have professional wheelchairs, posing difficulties for me. I even lost a tournament because my wheelchair broke in the middle of the match, and no one offered me theirs.”

The recent Para Badminton World Championship was the first time he managed to get a sponsor but Khalid isn’t sure if Vedanta will continue it. 

Khalid, who also assists others facing similar challenges, highlighted the lack of awareness in Delhi regarding para-badminton. 

“There is little awareness about para-badminton in Delhi. The last time the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) formed an Ad Hoc Committee for nationals, I reached out to them. With the support of PCI, we got an inter-state championship for para-badminton in Delhi for the first time. It marked a significant milestone for us.”

WINNING GLORY: The para badminton player holds the Tricolour after winning gold at an international meet in Uganda

The inter-state championship, where his wheelchair broke, took place in 2023 and attracted many players. Khalid says they are planning to hold the championship again this year, though this time they are expecting to double the number of participants from last year. 

Though he has now already started preparing for Asian Para-Badminton Championship in 2026 and World Paralympics in 2028, Khalid finds time to spread awareness among para badminton players and help those who are physically challenged. People are also reaching out to him for guidance.