Manila, August 12, 2003 (STAR) By Dante Navarro  - It used to be just a game most Filipinos play at family picnics and in the backyard, a weekend activity for most retirees. Some even describe the sport as a childís game, one that lacks intensity and serious competition.

But the last five years or so saw badminton blossom from a dormant sport into a flourishing game that has rivaled the likes of basketball, golf and even computer games and videos in terms of popularity and acceptance.

"Actually weíre very happy with the way the popularity of badminton has gone up. We didnít think that the boom would take place so fast. Weíre quite happy that we have gotten tremendous response from the people," said Kazue Salud, general manager of JVC Phils., the giant electronics firm that prides itself as one of the first major backers of the sport.

That was in 2001 when the Asian head office of JVC decided to stage the Asian Badminton Championships for the first time in Manila. Although it was successfully held at the Philsports Arena, through the IMG, there were problems in infrastructure, such as practice venues with the adjacent Valle Verde providing the only available courts for such a huge field that featured former world No. 1 Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia and local stars Kennevic and Kennie Asuncion.

Since then, the badminton boom has taken the country by storm.

Courts have sprouted like mushrooms and tournaments, which used to be far and in-between in the past, are now held almost weekly with the sport even raiding the ranks of celebrities and top corporations.

Conversely, sports stores have noted remarkable increase in the demand and sales of badminton equipment.

"Ang lakas ng demand ngayon. Tinalo na nga ang tennis," said a sales clerk of one top sporting outlet.

The regular media coverage of these competitions has likewise helped popularize the sport. And the Chinese victory in the just-concluded world championships in London further underscored the fact that Asians, and that includes Filipinos, can excel on the world badminton stage.

Former local champion and former sports commissioner Weena Lim reached that plateau when she saw action in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and although she came home empty-handed, her stint drew inspiration from the other local players to strive for excellence.

The Asuncion siblings have been battling it out with the regionís best the last few years with Kennevic reaching the last 32 by beating a fancied Englishman in this yearís world championship before bowing to a South Korean rival.

Still, the future looks bright for the brother-sister tandem, which incidentally will banner the crack field in the elite cast in the third edition of the JVC Open championships.

The event, slated Aug. 25-31, at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati will again put into focus JVCís thrust to further give the sport a mainstream appeal and help discover talents from the junior ranks, which will have two classes ó the 14-under and 18-under.

Easy to learn and easy on the budget, badminton is indeed a sport where Filipinos can even aspire for an Olympic gold mainly because height isnít a requirement to win but skill and talent.

"We want to do something that is not too commercial.

We want to support a sport that will cater to all segments of society, one sport where the Filipinos can excel in international competitions," said Salud.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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