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Community Impact

The Work and Joy of Being Officials

Benjamin Straatmann (left) and Joke Renckens (right) standing side by side.
Special Olympics badminton sport officials Benjamin Straatmann (left) and Joke Renckens (right) at the World Games in Berlin.

A badminton competition starts—men’s doubles between Special Olympics Indonesia and Special Olympics Denmark. The players stand facing each other on opposing sides of the net, stretching and warming up for the final which is about to start. A tense yet positive atmosphere of excitement is in the air as the players and spectators wait with anticipation for the signal to start.

The match is administered by a total of five officials. Two of them are Joke Renckens from Huizen, Netherlands, and Benjamin Straatmann from North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Both have been working as officials for several years, alongside their normal jobs and private lives. Both former players themselves, Benjamin has an impressive 12 years of experience officiating, while Joke has an outstanding 40 years! Joke and Benjamin each started their officiating careers working regional matches and have since acquired advanced licenses qualifying them to oversee badminton competitions at the Special Olympic World Games in Berlin 2023.

They explained that training and gaining experience as an official takes a fair amount of time. Their dedication has led them to use vacation days or weekends to train. It can take years to get approved credentials but Joke says it’s worth it. “Some of the best moments are seeing the athlete’s score or console each other after a ‘mistake.’ In both moments you witness the athletes’ pure joy of playing, the respect the athletes have for each other, and their outstanding passion and resilience.”

Joke and Benjamin also officiate badminton matches outside of Special Olympics, where they report experiencing a different atmosphere. Non-Special Olympics matches are filled with more aggressive rivalry. Benjamin shares, “At Special Olympics, it is as much about winning as it is the joy of participation!”

For anyone who has thought about becoming an official, Benjamin advises, “Just do it!”

To learn how to become a Special Olympics official, click here.

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