What are the Most Prestigious Badminton Tournaments?

Each major and reputable sport will host tournaments that pit players against each other to see who will emerge victorious and who will fizzle out in the attempt for glory. And with each sport, there is typically a single tournament or event that represents the pinnacle of that particular sport – a tournament that tops all tournaments. Soccer has the FIFA World Cup, American football has the IFAF World Championships, basketball has the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and baseball has its World Baseball Classic. So, what is the holy grail of tournaments for badminton? Read on to find out!

The most prestigious badminton tournaments are the Summer Olympic Games, BWF World Championships, Thomas Cup, Uber Cup, Sudirman Cup, and All England Open. These major tournaments are merited for differing reasons. The Summer Olympic Games is the least frequent tournament (occurring every 4 years) with arguably the toughest qualifying criteria. The BWF World Championships, along with the Olympic Games, grant the most world ranking points in addition to the title of the reigning world champion of badminton. The Thomas Cup, Uber Cup and Sudirman Cup are team-based tournaments where players bring glory to the country they represent alongside their compatriots. While the All England Open is the oldest and longest-running tournament in badminton with a $1,100,000 USD total prize pool.

What Are the Differences Between the Most Prestigious Badminton Tournaments?

Prestige, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. There are many reasons why a specific tournament may be a player’s ultimate goal to win. From competing together with fellow compatriots to winn a team-based tournament to being crowed the world champion, each tournament has its merits. We will highlight a few of the tournaments that are highly revered by players and fans alike.

Olympic Games – The first Summer Olympic Games that introduced badminton as an official sport was in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. The Summer Olympic Games is the rarest of the major tournaments as it only takes place once every 4 years. Many players are considered fortunate if they are able to represent their nation in a single Olympic Games. This is due to the tournament’s frequency coupled with the physical demands of staying active and performing at the highest level in your country. Each participating nation is typically only able to send 1 player or team to compete in each of the 5 disciplines in badminton. Exceptions that allow you to send more than 1 player or team to compete in a discipline include:

  1. If the nation has multiple players/teams that are highly ranked (2 pairs in the top 8 world rankings for doubles, or 2 individuals in the top 16 world rankings for singles), then both pairs or individuals qualify to compete, respectively.
  2. If you are the hosting nation for that particular Summer Olympic Games, you are entitled one male one female badminton player in each of the singles events. This may result in more than 1 individual competing in singles if you have another player in the top 16 world rankings for singles, for that discipline.

For countries with large numbers of badminton players, such as China and India, representing your nation in the Olympic Games is no simple feat! However, certain legendary players defy the odds – such as Lin Dan who has competed in 4 Olympic Games. The most decorated Olympic Games contender of all time is Gao Ling from China, who has won 4 medals in total – 2 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze.

Olympic Medals from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
Olympic Medals from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

BWF World Championships – The BWF World Championships debuted in 1977 in in Malmö, Sweden. This event is held annually except when the Summer Olympic Games take place. This tournament awards no cash prize to its winner, but instead crowns the winners as THE world champion for their discipline for that particular year. Besides the fact that the BWF World Championships (alongside the Olympic Games) awards the most world ranking points to its winner, the title has a nice ring to it. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to be referred to as the reigning world champion?

Thomas / Uber Cup. These events are known respectively as the World Men’s Team Championships and World Women’s Team Championships. The Thomas Cup started in 1949 in Preston, England. The Uber Cup started in 1957 in Lancashire, England. These events are held together on a biennial (every 2 years) schedule. The tournament consists of a a total of 5 matches per head-to-head meet-up between two nations, broken down into 3 singles matches and 2 doubles matches. A total of 16 nations compete in each of the Thomas and Uber Cups, with the initial phase of the tournaments played in a round-robin format. Four groups of four teams play each other nation in their group – all 5 matches are played against each opponent. The winner and runner-up of each group are then placed into a knockout, single-elimination bracket, where nations need to win a best of 5 matches series.

Surprisingly, both the Thomas and Uber cups have only had 5 nations emerge victorious. The winners of the Thomas Cup are: Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan and Denmark. Whereas the winners of the Uber Cup are: China, Japan, Indonesia, United States and Korea.

Uber Cup.
Uber Cup
Thomas Cup.
Thomas Cup

Sudirman Cup. The Sudirman Cup is commonly known as the World Mixed Team Championships in badminton and is contested every 2 years. The Sudirman Cup is named after Dick Sudirman, the founder of the Badminton Association of Indonesia, also known as PBSI. The Sudirman Cup consists of 4 groups based off of their combined world ranking scores. The top 12 teams form Group 1, the next 8 teams form Group 2, the next 8 teams form Group 3, and the final 3 teams form group 4. Only the 12 teams in Group 1 are actually competing for the trophy. The other groups of nations compete to better their ranking scores.

The format of Group 1 in the Sudirman Cup starts with the 12 teams split into 4 groups of 3 teams. In a round-robin style, the top two teams from each group advance to the quarter-finals which is a single-elimination knockout featuring 8 teams. Each meetup between opponents will consist of 1 match per each of the 5 disciplines – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles, Men’s Doubles, Women’s Double and Mixed Doubles. Unlike the round-robin stage where all 5 matches are played regardless of how many are won, the knockout stage only requires nations to compete until one of the nations win 3 of the 5 total matches. This means certain players representing the team may not get a chance to play! There is only a total of 3 nations that have ever been successful at winning the Sudirman Cup: China, South Korea, and Indonesia. The Sudirman Cup was started in 1989.

Sudirman Cup.
Sudirman Cup.

Yonex All England Open – The Yonex All England Open, otherwise known as the Yonex All England Open Badminton Championships, is the oldest and longest standing tournament in badminton history. This particular tournament stems back to 1899 and has only ever been disrupted during the World War I (1915 – 1919) and World War II (1940 – 1946). Given its rich history and cultural importance, players strive to add this title to their list of victories. For a look into badminton’s fascinating history, check out our post: What’s the Origin of Badminton? A Surprising History.

Viktor Axelsen - Winner of the All England Open 2020 in Men's Singles.
Viktor Axelsen – Winner of the All England Open 2020 in Men’s Singles.

While less renown than the tournaments described above, the following tournaments are a few of our honorable mentions:

BWF World Junior Championships. The BWF World Junior Championships made its appearance in 1992 in Jakarta, Indonesia. This event is held annually and includes a mixed team (Suhandinata Cup) and individual (Eye Level Cups) based competition. The BWF World Junior Championships is the ultimate tournament for junior badminton players (under 19) to showcase their skills and breakthrough into the adult professional badminton scene.

Suhandinata Cup.
Suhandinata Cup Trophy for the team based competition.
Eye Level Cup.
Eye Level Cup Trophy for the individual based competition.

Para-Badminton World Championships. The Para-Badminton World Championship is an event held biennially that brings together the highest ranked para-badminton athletes from around the world. Para-badminton athletes refers to badminton athletes with a range of physical disabilities. There are 6 classifications of sports classes which athletes can compete in: 2 in the Wheelchair Sport Class, 3 in the Standing Sport Class, and 1 in the Short Stature Sport Class. The 2021 Tokyo Olympics will be the first Olympic Games to include para-badminton. The first Para-Badminton World Championships was held in 1998 in Amersfoort, Netherlands.

BWF Senior World Championships. The BWF Senior World Championships is a tournament geared towards seniors that is held every other year. The following age groups are competed across each of the 5 disciplines in badminton: 35+, 40+, 45+, 50+, 55+, 60+, 65+, 70+. Member nations are entitled to enter in each age group 4 male and 4 female players in singles, 8 male and 8 female players in doubles and 4 male and 4 female players in mixed doubles. England leads all nations in the total medal count with an impressive 228 medals (58.5 gold, 57 silver and 112.5 bronze). The BWF Senior World Championships was first held in 2003 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Which Badminton Tournament has the Highest Prize Money?

The HSBC BWF World Tour Finals has the biggest pot of prize money at $1.5 million USD. The winners in the singles events are able to claim 8% ($120,000 USD) of the total pot, whereas the pair of winners in the doubles events will make 8.4% ($126,000 USD) of the total pot.

The HSBC BWF World Tour Finals is a tournament held at the end of the calendar year that invites the top 8 contenders based off World Tour Ranking to compete across each of the 5 disciplines. See below on how the $1.5 million USD pot is distributed across singles vs. doubles categories:

CategoryWinnerRunner-upSemi-Finalist3rd in Group Play4th in Group PlayTotal Percentage
Men’s Singles8%4%2%1.10%0.60%
Number11222
Total8%4%4%2.20%1.20%19.40%
Women’s Singles8%4%2%1.10%0.60%
Number11222
Total8%4%4%2.20%1.20%19.40%
Men’s Doubles8.40%4%2%1.30%0.70%
Number11222
Total8.40%4%4%2.60%1.40%20.40%
Women’s Doubles8.40%4%2%1.30%0.70%
Number11222
Total8.40%4%4%2.60%1.40%20.40%
Mixed Doubles8.40%4%2%1.30%0.70%
Number11222
Total8.40%4%4%2.60%1.40%20.40%

Here is a table of prize money awarded across all 6 levels of the Grade 2 badminton tournaments. These figures are based off the total prize money pool in 2020:

TournamentSingles WinnerSingles Runner-UpDoubles WinnerDoubles Runner-Up
HSBC BWF World Tour Finals$120,000$60,000$126,000$60,000
BWF Super Series 1000$77,000$37,400$81,400$38,500
BWF Super Series 750$52,500$25,500$55,500$26,250
BWF Super Series 500$30,000$15,200$31,600$15,200
BWF Super Series 300$12,750$6,460$13,430$6,460
BWF Super Series 100$6,750$3,420$7,110$3,420

How are the Major Tournaments in Badminton Categorized?

Badminton tournaments are categorized into 3 grades by the Badminton World Federation (BWF). The amount of world ranking points awarded based on performance is weighted by the different grades and levels of tournaments with Grade 1 (Olympic Games and BWF World Championships) fetching the most, and Grade 3 (Future Series) awarding the least. For a precise break-down of the possible points achieved per tournament, refer to BWF’s World Ranking System here.

Grade 1:

  • Olympic Games
  • BWF World Championships
  • BWF World Junior Championships
  • BWF World Senior Championships
  • BWF Para-Badminton World Championships
  • Thomas Cup
  • Uber Cup
  • Sudirman Cup

Grade 2:

  • Level 1: HSBC BWF World Tour Finals
  • Level 2: BWF World Tour Super 1000 (3 tournaments)
  • Level 3: BWF World Tour Super 750 (5 tournaments)
  • Level 4: BWF World Tour Super 500 (7 tournaments)
  • Level 5: BWF World Tour Super 300 (11 tournaments)
  • Level 6: BWF World Tour Super 100 (11 tournaments)

Grade 3:

  • International Challenge (22 tournaments)
  • International Series (37 tournaments)
  • Future Series (27 tournaments)

Players at the top of the sport have a regulatory commitment to make in tournament attendance. The top 15 ranked singles players and top 10 doubles pairs must compete in the following tournaments. Failure to do so, without valid justification, will result in a fine of up to $5,000 USD!

  • All 3 of the BWF World Tour Super 1000
  • All 5 of the BWF World Tour Super 750
  • 4 of 7 of the BWF World Tour Super 500

What are the Different Formats of Badminton Tournaments?

Most of the major tournaments in badminton operate on the single elimination (or knockout) tournament format. However, depending on the level of tournament that you are playing in, you may see some variations in the format. Let’s explore some of the most common types of tournament formats in badminton below:

Single Elimination. This is the most common format found in professional badminton. Single elimination means that once you lose a match you are eliminated from the tournament all together. In the major tournaments, single elimination brackets consist of 32 teams. In such a bracket, there are 8 seeded teams who are dispersed as to not meet each other in tournament play until the 3rd round, otherwise known as the quarter finals.

Tournaments: All BWF World Tour Super 100s, 300s, 500s, 750s and 1000s

Round Robin. Round Robin is a format where teams are separated into groups and each team plays every other team in the group. Typically the round robin format is used as a way to whittle down the number of teams to then compete in a single elimination or knockout format. The scores that each team achieves in the round robin stage may help seed the team during the next stage of the tournament in the case of a tie breaker. In small, local tournaments, if there are not enough entries to have players play enough matches in a single or double elimination format, round robin may be selected to give players the opportunity to play more matches.

Tournaments: Olympic Games and the BWF HSBC World Tour Finals.

Team Play. In the team play format, a match-up between teams consists of multiple matches played in a best of 5 series. Common team play formats include:

  1. A mixed series which includes 1 match of each of the 5 disciplines in badminton
  2. A series made of 3 singles and 2 doubles for men’s only or women’s only team play tournaments.

Tournaments: Uber Cup, Thomas Cup, and Sudirman Cup

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