There can’t be many in Africa like Prakash Vijayanath. Not only is he working as a programmer, trading in foreign currencies and about to start his master’s in finance, he also dreams of winning gold at the Olympics.
What makes Vijayanath even more rare, in Africa at least, is that he hopes to go to the Olympics for badminton.
His chances are decent. Vijayanath bagged silver at the 2015 African Games in Brazzaville, Congo. He also won the national men’s title in South Africa when he was just 18.
The 23-year-old is not resting on his laurels though.
“I was happy with that result but it was only a stepping stone for other international tournaments. I don’t really see it as a big milestone. It was something I needed to get out of the way so I could focus on international tournaments. It was an important goal nonetheless,” he says.
Vijayanath is based in Dublin, Ireland. He moved there, from Johannesburg, as soon as he finished high school. He got a sport scholarship at Trinity College and has just finished his bachelors in computer science and business. He plans to do his Master’s in finance there next year.
From Dublin he can play in more tournaments.
“I’m based in Europe, so traveling around Europe is quite cheap. So, I’ve played a lot of tournaments around Europe,” he says.
There is a downside though; getting funding can be tough. It means he has had to reach into his own pockets to be able to play in some tournaments.
“It can be hard to find sponsors, especially being a South African athlete in Ireland. South African companies would like to sponsor you but if you don’t play many South African tournaments, and Irish companies can’t sponsor you because you’re not an Irish athlete.”
Vijayanath did have a deal with Carlton, a leading producer of badminton equipment, but is currently negotiating a deal with a new sponsor. He is also sponsored by his parents’ IT company, eSoft Development and Technologies. This is apt; Vijayanath worked as an intern, helping to develop software at eSoft. His parents are also the reason he plays badminton.
“My parents used to play when they were younger and in India. I was born in India, when we moved to South Africa, I was about four years old, and they joined a club in Randburg. Every Tuesday and Thursday night they would play and when I was about five or six they would let me play with them. It just developed from there.”
His father, Vijayanath Muthuramalingam, moved to South Africa when his then company, Siemens, offered him a job.
“The original plan was not to stay here, they were supposed to be in South Africa for a few years but my dad’s contract kept being renewed and we’ve ended up staying here.”
Although he was born in India, Vijayanath considers South Africa home. One of his goals is to wear South African colors at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“I want to focus on some short-term goals, winning the nationals again later this year. If I win it it’ll be my third senior national title. I want to focus on these short-term goals so I can improve and while I improve I’ll start playing more international tournaments, qualify for the Olympics, and then do well in the Olympics hopefully.”
Getting to Tokyo won’t be easy.
“It’s quite tough… Normally only one or two African players qualify for men’s singles for each Olympics. It’s mostly Asian and European. Winning the African championships is a must to qualify for the Olympics and having loads of good international results. You need good results in Africa; you also have to travel to Europe, South America, North America, even Asia for high ranking tournaments,” he says.
Asian countries are the traditional powerhouses of badminton. Vijayanath says African countries need to start from the ground up to be able to compete with the likes of China, India and Malaysia.
“There needs to be more popularity in the sport. In China, badminton is one of their biggest sports. In India, I think it’s the second biggest sport, behind cricket. Once you get popularity, more people start playing and there’s more money in the sport to develop young players.”
There’s money to be made in the sport as well, especially in Europe where Vijayanath is based.
“In Europe, badminton is quite popular. In England it’s doing well, in Denmark it’s one of the most popular sports, in Germany it’s big and the league system is very good. There’s also good money playing league there and you get good experience.”
Balancing badminton, work and studying can be difficult. Vijayanath has to meticulously plan every day.
“In my first year of college I didn’t balance it well. I wanted to have a bit of fun, but I did quickly learn how to balance it. Basically I go at it week by week. Every Sunday I made a plan of what I was going to do during the week, literally per the hour. It sounds nerdy but it helped me so much.”
Those who play league are mostly full-time, he says. As he is studying, Vijayanath only has enough time to play in tournaments.
“As I went into my final year of college, I only focused on my studies and badminton. Even during my exams, I had to stop badminton for two months.”
With his degree in the bag, and a few months to go before he starts his master’s, Vijayanath has dabbled in forex trading.
“At the moment I trade foreign currency a bit. I just started a few months back. I’ve got a lot to learn still. I made a few losses in the beginning; I’m only starting to make small profits now. I’m using this year as a learning period.”
The future looks bright for the Indian-born, Ireland-based badminton player from the Rainbow Nation. Who knows, in a few years, Vijayanath could have a pot of gold as well as an Olympic gold medal.
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