The biggest sacrifice Dorsa Yavarivafa has had to make to play badminton is being away from her family, especially her father who got her started out in the sport as a 10 year old. The sport has been a constant through all the tribulations of her refugee life though, and as a International Olympic Committee scholarship athlete, she hopes it will lead her to the Olympics.
“It hurts me a little bit, and it’s hard not playing for your country. Who doesn’t wanna play under a flag and make their country proud?” she asks, adding it’s a privilege though to play under the IOC’s Refugee program, and get the opportunity to aim at the Olympics.
The Iran-born recalls winning in every age-group tournament there was, but not being picked to represent her country, being discriminated against for her mother’s religious choices.
“Iran didn’t play fair. I was winning National tournaments. But they had problems with my mother’s religion so we had to leave. She was born a Muslim, but believes in Christianity and changing her religion caused a problem,” Dorsa explains.
It meant fleeing to Germany first and UK later, seeking refugee status which means Dorsa can’t see her father who’s back in Iran for another few years. “It’s been 5 years since I saw my Dad face to face. He’s really proud of me playing this sport, so that keeps me going,”she adds.
It had started with her dad asking her to give badminton a try after a spot of basketball. She didn’t enjoy the team dynamic, and craved an individual sport. She found badminton a fun game after giving it a go, and started competing in smaller tournaments. At 12/13, she reckoned she wanted to go pro in this sport.
Her time as a refugee has meant uncertainty where it could become a risk to stay in a country and also constant fear of deportation. Badminton has kept her happy through those tough times. “I would get first place in nationals, but couldn’t go international back in Iran. I was training so hard every single day, it hurt,” she recalls of the travails of not being picked by her home country Iran.
Dorsa plays singles and doubles at London now, the latter partnering Sri Pradeepta Ananth. But she grew up a fan of Carolina Marin in her early teens. Now she studies sports science at Sandwell College, and idolises An Se Young whom she watched play at All England earlier this year. She loves the Korean’s attacking style of play. “In men’s singles I like Viktor Axelsen.”
Her own singles national ranking dipped after she moved from Birmingham to London because she couldn’t train as before. In doubles she is ranked No 41 in the UK. Dorsa’s eventual target is to get paid for what she does – play badminton professionally, and perhaps represent the UK. “Who doesn’t want to play under a flag?” she repeats.
She trains on the court thrice a week – Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and in the gym a further three days – Saturdays she plays tournaments , and Sundays are rest days. Being a professional athlete means she’s had to give up on certain things she loves – junk food, for start. “I love food, but now I have a dietician, and have had to give up on certain food,” she says of the discipline imbibed, as a result of wanting to play at the highest level.
Winning the IOC refugee scholarship was one of the happiest days in Dorsa’s life. “It’s an honour. What we couldn’t do in our country, we’ll under this flag. The way I think of it, let’s just make them proud anyway.” It’s what keeps her going in training. There are fond memories of playing badminton with her friends in Iran, and an acceptance of circumstances the way they panned out. The scholarship will fund Dorsa’s training and competition in the lead up to Paris 2024, as she attempts to qualify for the Olympics.