Dorsa Yavarivafa looks ahead to ‘dream’ Olympic debut

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When Dorsa Yavarivafa arrived in the UK in 2019, a place at the Paris Olympics appeared a distant dream.

Yavarivafa was a promising youth player in her home country of Iran but had to put the racket to one side while she and her mother fled across the globe in search of sanctuary, a journey which took the best part of a year before they settled in Birmingham.

The badminton community proved crucial to helping the then-teenage Yavarivafa get to grips with life in her new home and five years on, she will be in the French capital representing the IOC’s Refugee Olympic Team at Paris 2024.

Yavarivafa was present alongside Ben Lane and Sean Vendy at the London Stock Exchange as their respective selections were confirmed and the 20-year-old is still pinching herself at the opportunity.

“It’s unreal to think I will be there, I am shocked,” said Yavarivafa, who has since moved to Colindale in North-West London.

“I am getting used to the interviews and the photos but I am loving it so much.

“I started playing badminton when I was 10, my dad introduced me to it. After that, I played until I was 15 then I couldn’t play for a year as we were on the way to England and that had a lot of difficulties.

“When I moved to Birmingham, I met Lorraine Cole, then in London, Sara Sankey. Now I am training in Milton Keynes with the Sankey Academy.

“I have made a lot of friends through badminton, they helped me a lot with my English and my studies. Everyone has been so helpful and it’s such a nice community, I love it.”

The Refugee Olympic Team was launched prior to Rio 2016 and Yavarivafa is among the 36 athletes who will compete on behalf of more than 100 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

As soon as she heard about the opportunity to compete, having been made aware by Olympian Kaveh Mehrabi, she stopped at nothing to ensure she would take to the court this summer.

“I made a huge improvement from when they told me I could have the opportunity to then being selected,” she said.

“I was confident but when they told me, it was still such a shock. It was a relief and I am just really happy.

“I am the only badminton player and I think I’ll be the youngest on the team. I have met some of them – the swimmer, Matin Balsini, the boxer Cindy Ngamba and Ramiro Mora Romero, who does weightlifting.

“It is a really good opportunity to showcase ourselves and to show other refugees that anything is possible.”

Yavarivafa studies sports and exercise science at Middlesex University and last year’s Middlesex Senior Gold event provided one of her more treasured memories – despite the fact she lost in the first round.

“My dad was there and he had never seen me play before,” she said.

“In Iran, it’s not allowed for people to see women play, so it was such a great experience.

“I was so nervous. It was 17 or 18 years before my dad saw me play for the first time, which is really strange, and I was a bit stressed.

“We got emotional after the match and he was so proud of me. Both my parents will be in Paris this summer, we are all ready.

“I can’t wait to meet the top players from across the world and everything else that comes with it, it will be such an amazing experience.”

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