Dima Alardah uses badminton to change lives in Jordan

By Brian Canever September 30, 2014

Dima Alardah could barely focus as the referee blew for the start of the women’s badminton semifinal at the 2007 Pan Arab Games in Egypt.

Alardah, a relative unknown in the sport, was playing Hadia Hosny, a two-time Olympian and African champion. The crowd was fully behind its hometown hero, and Alardah knew it.

“I was so nervous,” recalls Alardah. “She was the number-one player in Africa. We were in her country and everyone wanted her to win.”

An architecture student with only two years’ experience in the sport, Alardah had advanced far beyond anyone’s expectations. Her teammates, all eliminated by that point, had been playing since they were seven years old. Alardah, meanwhile, did not hit her first shuttlecock until she was 18.

But that didn’t stop her from toppling Hosny in a best-of-three match. A few days later she won the gold medal in women’s singles, the first of many titles for the now three-time defending Jordanian national champion and the country’s highest-ranked player.

Alardah finished her degree in architecture in 2010, but could not pull away from the sport.

“After two years of working, I decided that architecture wasn’t my passion,” she says. “I didn’t enjoy sitting behind a desk all day. I loved badminton too much.”

Alardah played tournaments throughout the world in hopes of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics. Despite reaching an international ranking of 285 in singles and 210 in doubles, a lack of financing and sponsorship kept her from achieving her dream.

That is when Alardah decided to open SHUTTLERS, the first badminton academy in the Arab world.

“I wanted to take the initiative and make a difference so that in the future another player could go further than I could,” she says.

Alardah also works as a trainer with the Norwegian Refugee Council, which aims to promote peace and teamwork through sport for Syrian refugees in Jordan. It is a full-time job on top of her evening work at SHUTTLERS.

“It’s hard, but for me it doesn’t feel like working,” says Alardah. “Helping refugees and introducing sport to my community are my passions.”

Alardah is also committed to improving the lives of Jordanian women. The latest statistics from World Bank show only 23 percent of women participate in the labor force, which ranks Jordan 177th in the world. The unemployment rate for young women is also more than double what it is for young men, 38 to 17 percent.

Despite the Jordanian government’s efforts, Alardah believes that a major roadblock for women in the country is the expectation that women are not supposed to work, a norm that can only change through greater visibility of female leaders like herself.

“Women are relying on their husbands or their fathers to lead them,” says Alardah. “What I wish for women in my country is that they can work, they can study what they want, and choose their own paths.”

Standing across from Hosny so many years ago and not buckling to the pressure showed Alardah there is nothing to fear. And now she hopes to share that same, life-altering power with 7 million Jordanians.

“In badminton, if your opponent is waiting for you to hit a shot to the back, you hit it to the front,” says Alardah. “I’ve carried that principle of unpredictability into life, so when somebody says, ‘No, Dima, you can’t do it,’ I will go and prove them wrong.”