The modern history of badminton began in India with a game known as poona. Poona was a competitive sport that British Army officers learned and brought back to England, but more about that part of badminton’s history in a moment. First, we must answer the question, “So just where did the game of poona come from?”
Poona developed from a children’s game called battledore and shuttlecock. The object of this game was to see how long a group could volley the shuttlecock by hitting it with the battledore, or paddle. This cooperative, non-competitive game was originally played without a net. The shuttlecock is often called a bird because its made out feathers. Today, some models are made of plastic, but competition shuttlecocks consist of 16 real feathers. Experts claim the very best shuttles are made from feathers taken from the left wing of a goose. Who knew?
Even before battledore and shuttlecock evolved, there were similar sports being played throughout the world. In fifth century China, ti jian zi was played by kicking a shuttle into the air. By the 1600s, people in Europe were playing jeu de volant, a game that used a racket rather than feet to volley the shuttle.
By the time British officers stationed in India encountered poona the game was a fast-paced competitive sport. These officers took the equipment for poona back to England in the early 1870s.
A Party at Badminton
It was the Duke of Beaufort who officially introduced the game to England. In 1873, guests at a lawn party on his country estate, Badminton, played a game of poona. The game was a hit and soon became popular among the British elite. People began calling the new party sport “the Badminton game.”
The game was played both indoors and outdoors on a court with an hourglass shape. It has been suggested that this unusual shape developed so the game could be played in Victorian salons, large rooms with doors that opened inward on both sides. In 1901, the official badminton court became rectangular.
Badminton clubs were started throughout England. By 1893, badminton had grown to the point where 14 clubs joined to form the Badminton Association. (Later, when more countries started their own federations, the name was changed to the Badminton Association of England.) This group was instrumental in standardizing the laws of the sport and in starting the earliest and most prestigious badminton tournament, the All-England Badminton Championships.
As badminton spread to more countries, the need for an international governing board became apparent. The International Badminton Federation was created in 1934 and today has its headquarters in Kent, England. These nine countries were the original members of the IBF:
Today, the IBF has more than 150 member nations. The American Badminton Association was formed in the United States in 1936 and joined the IBF in 1938. In 1978 the ABA changed its name to the U.S. Badminton Association
Badminton, court or lawn game played with lightweight rackets and a shuttlecock. Historically, the shuttlecock (also known as a “bird” or “birdie”) was a small cork hemisphere with 16 goose feathers attached and weighing about 0.17 ounce (5 grams). These types of shuttles may still be used in modern play, but shuttles made from synthetic materials are also allowed by the Badminton World Federation. The game is named for Badminton, the country estate of the dukes of Beaufort in Gloucestershire, England, where it was first played about 1873. The roots of the sport can be traced to ancient Greece, China, and India, and it is closely related to the old children’s gamebattledore and shuttlecock. Badminton is derived directly from poona, which was played by British army officers stationed in India in the 1860s. The first unofficial all-England badminton championships for men were held in 1899, and the first badminton tournament for women was arranged the next year.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF; originally the International Badminton Federation), the world governing body of the sport, was formed in 1934. Badminton is also popular in Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and Denmark. The BWF’s first world championships were held in 1977. A number of regional, national, and zonal badminton tournaments are held in several countries. The best-known of these is the All-England Championships. Other well-known international tournaments include the Thomas Cup (donated 1939) for men’s team competition and the Uber Cup (donated 1956) for women’s team competition.
Badminton first appeared in the Olympic Games as a demonstration sport in 1972 and as an exhibition sport in 1988. At the 1992 Games it became a full-medal Olympic sport, with competition for men’s and women’s singles (one against one) and doubles (two against two). Mixed doubles was introduced at the 1996 Games.
Competitive badminton is usually played indoors because even light winds affect the course of the shuttlecock. (Recreational badminton, on the other hand, is a popular outdoor summertime activity.) The rectangular court is 44 feet (13.4 metres) long and 17 feet (5.2 metres) wide for singles, 20 feet (6.1 metres) wide for doubles. A net 5 feet (1.5 metres) high stretches across the width of the court at its centre. A clear space of 4 feet (1.3 metres) around the court is needed. Play consists entirely of volleying—hitting the shuttlecock back and forth across the net without letting it touch the floor or ground within the boundaries of the court.
In international play, athletes compete in best-of-three-games matches. A game is played to 21 points, provided that the winner has at least a 2-point advantage. If a 2-point advantage is never reached, the first player or team to score 30 points wins. Points were only awarded to the serving side until 2006, when the BWF adopted the “rally scoring” system, under which either side can score at any time.