Badminton is a sport for all, and one Leeds team is paving the way for even more to pick up a racket as they promote the sport among the city’s LGBT community.
‘The Bad Mittens’, the mastermind of Rob Wilson, is an inclusive badminton group open to anyone to attend, whether players are straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.
The team focuses on playing socially, rather than competitively, and welcomes people from all walks of life who want to meet new people, while getting fit and healthy on the court.
And for Wilson, who has been the club soar over the past two seasons, nothing gives him greater pleasure than seeing players grow in confidence as they overcome barriers to participation.
“I was already quite a regular badminton player, and through that, had already got to know quite a few people who were interested so there was a base for the club to be formed,” he said.
“We wanted it to be an inclusive group, because it’s important for us, I think, not to be exclusive and we are welcoming to all. While some of our members identify as LGBT, others don’t.
“One of the biggest challenges, which could be a generational thing, is that historically, PE and sport in school was always one of the areas where there was a high level of bullying, particularly around sexuality or an assumed sexuality.
“People have had quite negative experiences and connected that with sport, so some, from a young age, have been put off it because those experiences stick with them.
“With our club, it’s given them a safe space to participate in sport and get active again, when maybe they haven’t had that opportunity for a number of years.”
Based at Leeds’ Armley Leisure Centre, The Bad Mittens play twice a week, on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons.
And while Wilson is also heavily involved with other LGBT sports teams, including rugby side Leeds Hunters, he insists badminton provides the perfect platform on which people can flourish.
“Badminton, in particular, is quite a social sport, and that social aspect, having fun and making friends, is something we really focus on, rather than it being competitive,” he said.
“When we first started, we had probably around 30 members, whereas we now have 157 at the last count.
“There is a lot of interest in playing badminton, and because we have placed our focus on fun and friends, and play socially instead of competitively, it’s a great chance to get to know people.”
With numbers increasing on a weekly basis, ‘The Bad Mittens’ has been incredibly well received within the Leeds LGBT community, but Wilson admits he is keen to see more badminton clubs open their doors to members of the LGBT community.
“It’s so important to engage with a group of people who will find a great benefit in being involved with sport and active lifestyles, who aren’t currently,” said the 40-year-old.
“LGBT people will feel they don’t have a place in some groups, unless you actively promote yourselves as being LGBT.
“It’s not about groups stating they are LGBT-led, but it’s about having policies in place to ensure that clubs are inclusive.
“Our key to success has definitely been keeping it fun and friendly. We’re welcoming to new people and encouraging, so when people come along for the first time, it’s important to engage with them and get to know them.”
Photos: Rob Wilson