Badminton, called the world’s fastest racket sport, is
played with rackets and shuttlecocks on a court divided
by a net. Initially a form of recreation, it is now an
Olympic sport with a professional tour. It is a major
sport in most countries of northern Europe and southeast Asia, and virtually the national sport in Indonesia
and several other countries. Denmark, Sweden, England, Holland, and Germany lead the European nations in their interest. The International Badminton
Federation lists approximately 1.4 million as registered
with national badminton associations around the
world, although the actual number of people who play
badminton is estimated at 10 times that figure.
Evidence of games similar to badminton appears as
early as the 1st century B.C.E. in China, where Ti Jian Zi,
or shuttlecock kicking, became popular. The game of Ti
Jian Zi involved hitting a shuttlecock with one’s feet or
hands, or occasionally with a bat. The game also was
popular in Japan, India, and Siam, and spread to Sumeria and Greece.
In 14th-century England, the game of battledore
shuttlecock, involving a racket or paddle and a shuttlecock, was widely played. Using no nets or boundaries,
this was primarily a means of testing players’ skill in
keeping the shuttlecock in play as long as possible. By
the late 16th century it had become a popular children’s
game, the object still being to hit the shuttlecock to
each other, or to oneself, as long as possible.
During the 17th century, the game’s social status
rose as it became a pastime for British royalty and the
leisured classes. Early English settlers in America also
enjoyed the game at this time. In the 1800s, the seventh
Duke of Beaufort and his family were avid players at his
Gloucester estate, called Badminton House. At this estate, a “new game” of badminton battledore, involving a
net and boundaries, evolved; thus, the name “badminton.” By 1867, a formal game of badminton was being played in India by English officers and their families, who developed the first rules. During the following
three decades, badminton evolved into a competitive
indoor sport, and clubs were formed throughout the
British Isles. Beginning in the 1920s, badminton spread
to northern Europe and North America and from India
throughout the rest of Asia.
By 1979 the game had become truly professional; in
1985 it became an Olympic sport (with a 1992 debut in
Barcelona), and was included in the Pan American
Games in 1995. The International Badminton Federation, formed in 1934, governs all international badminton competition and has more than 125 member
nations. A year-round international grand prix circuit
worth $2 million a year in prize money currently attracts the top players to touring careers.
Rules and Play
Badminton differs from other racket sports in its use of
a shuttlecock that must not touch the ground. These
factors make badminton a fast game requiring quick
reflexes and strong conditioning; top athletes have
recorded smashes of over 320 kilometers (200 miles)
All officially sanctioned competition around the
world is played indoors (recreational badminton is
played outside as well). The badminton court measures 17 feet by 44 feet (5.2 meters by 13.4 meters) for singles
play and 20 feet (6.1 meters) by 44 feet for doubles play.
Competitive badminton is played in five events: men’s
singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.A badminton game consists of
15 points, except for women’s singles in which a game
is 11 points. The best of three games constitutes a
match. Points can be scored only by the serving side.
A typical rally in badminton singles consists of a
serve and repeated high deep shots hit to the baseline
(clears), interspersed with dropshots. If and when a
short clear or other type of “set-up” is forced, a smash
wins the point. More often than not, an error (where the
shuttlecock is hit out-of-bounds or into the net) brings
an end to a rally rather than a positive winning play. A
patient player who commits few or no errors often wins
by simply waiting for the opponent to err. In doubles,
there are fewer clears and more low serves, drives, and
net play. Again, the smash often ends the point.
The traditional feathered shuttlecock is used in all
major badminton competitions. The badminton net
stands 5 feet (1.524 meters) high at the center of the
court and 5 feet, 1 inch (1.550 meters) at each end post.
Badminton rackets, made of wood until the 1950s, today are made of various blends of carbon, boron, aluminum, and steel, are very light, and can be strung very
tightly with natural gut or synthetic string.
Major Events and Players
Major international badminton competitions include
the Olympic Games, the Thomas Cup and the Uber
Cup, the World Badminton Championships, and the
Sudirman Cup. The World Badminton Championships
were initiated in 1977 to provide individual championships that would complement other competitions.
The World Championships are currently held every
odd-numbered year. The Sudirman Cup is the World
Mixed Team Championship, instituted in 1989. The
record-holder for most individual world badminton titles and World Championships titles [1977–present]) is
the legendary U.S. player Judy Devlin Hashman, with
17. By nation, players from Denmark have won more
individual world titles (77) than any other country. Indonesia holds the most men’s team world titles (9), and
China and Japan are tied for the most women’s team
world titles (5). Currently, Indonesian players dominate
international competition. China is also near the top in
international badminton competition. Chinese players
captured four medals at the 1996 Olympics; South Korea and Malaysia took four and two, respectively.
Badminton’s diversity—as an uncomplicated and
lively backyard game to a multimillion-dollar professional sport—suggests that it is likely to remain popular at several levels. Although growing more visible, it
has yet to achieve the status or cachet of tennis, and
whether it will ever do so remains an open question.
—KATHLEEN M. SPENCE
Bibliography: Bloss, Margaret Varner, and R. Stanton Hales.
(1994) Badminton. Dubuque, IA: Brown & Benchmark.
Davis, Pat. (1983) Guinness Book of Badminton. London:
Guinness Superlatives Ltd. United States Badminton Association. (1995) Badminton ’95 (USBA Official Media
Guide). Colorado Springs, CO: United States Badminton
Badminton, called the world’s fastest racket sport, is