What’s the Origin of Badminton? A Surprising History.

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Depending on which corner of Earth you are from, you will have a very different experience and outlook on badminton. You may have been introduced to badminton by browsing YouTube, learning it through physical education in school, enrolling in a badminton academy, or playing it at a backyard barbecue. But how many of us really know the origins of badminton?

Badminton originated in Gloucestershire, England in the late 19th century. Badminton’s roots are tied to the game of battledore and shuttlecock which can be traced back to ancient Greece. Battledore and shuttlecock was a simple game where players used paddles to hit a shuttlecock between them with the objective of keeping the shuttlecock from landing on the ground. This game was popular among children to play in England.

British army officials stationed in Poona, India (current day Pune, India) during the 1860s evolved the battledore and shuttlecock game by introducing a net between the players. This resulted in badminton at that time being referred to as Poona. Retired British army officials returning to England introduced the sport to the guests of a lawn party hosted by the Duke of Beaufort at his residence known as Badminton House. The demonstration of this sport was spread through word of mouth by the party guests as the “Badminton game” and the rest is history. Fun fact is that Badminton is the name of an actual village for which the Duke of Beaufort’s Badminton House is located, in the county of Gloucestershire, England.

Battledore and Shuttlecock, the child's game that badminton originated from.
Illustration from ”Youthful Sports”, edition of 1804, published by Darton and Harvey, London.

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When was Badminton Recognized as a Global Sport?

The first official world badminton tournament was held in the town of Guildford in Surrey, England back on March 10th, 1898. A year later in 1899 is when the first All England Championships was created, regarded as the world’s long-standing tournament to date! The All England Open is one of the most prestigious tournaments on the international competition stage, rated as a grade 2 level 2 tournament. For a better understanding of the different tournament grade and levels, refer to the officiating source from Badminton World Federation (BWF) here.

Check out the exciting progression of the All England Championships, better known in modern day as the All England Open in the following video:

What may be shocking to learn is that the original court took on the shape of an hourglass vs. the rectangular court that modern players are familiar with. It was suggested that the hourglass shape was intentional for the sport to be played within Victorian salons, which had doors that opened inwards from both sides. The hourglass shape was short-lived, as the rectangular court was adopted in 1902.

Badminton hourglass court shape and dimensions.
Diagram 1: Hourglass Badminton Court from the late 19th Century

The International Badminton Federation (IBF) was later formed in 1934 as the official governing body of badminton. The founding members of the IBF included: England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. IBF was later renamed to BWF in 2006 and currently has a total of 200 member nations across 5 regions, globally: Asia, Europe, Americas, Africa and Oceania. It is safe to say that badminton has achieved global reach as a sport.

Furthermore, if the Olympics is regarded as the epitome of the sporting world, then badminton gained its recognition when it was legitimized as an Olympic sport in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Badminton was first introduced as a demonstration sport in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Demonstration sports was first seen in the 1912 Summer Olympics (and discontinued at the 1992 Summer Olympics), where sports that were not part of the Olympic program were played. These could be local sports played in the host country. While most demonstration sports were simply for promoting a lesser known sport, some sorts, such as badminton, were able to be officially added to the Olympic program. In its debut at the 1992 Summer Olympics, only 4 of the 5 disciplines were competed in – Men’s Singles, Men’s Doubles, Women’s Singles and Women’s Doubles. The Mixed Doubles discipline was not contested until the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, United States.

How Have the Rules Changed Since Badminton Was Created?

With its origins in England, the first tournaments were competed under the 1890 rules published by the then governing body, the Badminton Association of England (BAE). The most notable change with badminton is the way the scoring system was modified. Dating back to the original set of rules, badminton operated on “sideout” scoring in a best of 3 games to 15 points, matches. Sideout scoring means that only the side that is serving may score a point. Additionally, in doubles matches, beyond the first service team only having a single serve, each player of a pair would get a chance to serve before the service is passed to their opponents. In 2002, the BWF experimented with changing the original 3 games x 15 points format to a 5 games x 7 points format to see if it could reduce the play time of length matches. As quickly as it was introduced, BWF scraped this format in the same year.

In December 2005 is where the modern day scoring system was born. Sideout serving was replaced by a rally scoring model where a point can be won no matter which side was serving. Total points to win a game in this new format was extended to 21, with the rule stipulating that a side must win by a margin of 2 points if they reached 20 – 20 (or hit 30 points, whichever arrived first). These rules were officially adopted in August 2006. In 2018, a format change was debated to change the match structure to 5 games x 11 points, to make the games quicker and subsequently more exciting, but was not officially adopted after its trial. Recent rumblings in April 2020 rumor that BWF is considering reviving the topic of the scoring change to the 5 games x 11 points format. For a recap of the pros and cons of this format for badminton fans like yourself, check out the following article: BWF Considering New Scoring System AGAIN!

Of honorary mention is the fact that the service height for regulatory badminton was updated in December 2018. Prior to December 2018, the rule was that “the whole shuttle shall be below the server’s waist at the instant of being hit by the server’s racket. The waist shall be considered to be an imaginary line round the body, level with the lowest part of the server’s bottom rib”. However with the regulation changes enacted in December 2018, the whole shuttlecock needs to be less than 3.77 ft (1.15 m) from the surface of the court at the instant of being hit by the player’s racket.

Service posts which help line judges in evaluating the fixed service height.
Fixed height service markers are used by badminton officials known as service judges to confirm legality of player serves.

How has Badminton Equipment Changed?

The original badminton racket was made out of wood. Wood, however, is a very dense material and therefore is not optimal for a sport that is as fast-paced as badminton. In a plight for lighter and faster play, metals such as steel and aluminum started to replace the badminton racket material. Carbon and graphite fibers and nano technologies have further mades its appearance into the current top of the line racket material as technologies and innovation constantly push the boundaries of how a racket can amplify a player’s badminton game. Beyond the changing of materials, even the shape of a badminton racket has changed. Originally of a standard oval, the isometric head-shape was created that resembles more of a rounded square shape. The benefits of a isometric head-shape racket is a larger “sweet spot” on the racket, which is more forgiving for players who may mistime and mishit a shuttlecock during a shot.

The strings which form the string bed of a racket is the location along a racket that a player will strike the shuttlecock with. What surprised me was discovering that players used to play with strings made out of animal gut! Specifically, from the stomach of cats. The reason for this is that strings made out of animal gut is known for its shock absorption from the shuttlecock contacting the string bed. The result is less shock being transferred from the strings to a player’s arm for more comfort and a better feel upon each hit. The drawback of using animal gut strings is its cost and lower durability as compared to synthetic strings.

Animal gut was used as badminton racket strings during the old days.

Most strings used nowadays are made of nylon combined with other micro materials. Nylon material allows for strings to be made thinner and hold string tension longer. Strings are assessed in 5 major properties: control, repulsion power, durability, hitting sound, and shock absorption. Find out what type of strings would best complement your play style through our blog post on strings here.

The shuttlecock, or “ball” that traces back to battledore, the predecessor of badminton, was made of feathers attached to a velvet-covered cork base. Through the course of the shuttlecock’s history, rubber, linen thread, cotton thread, chicken feathers, duck feathers, and even natural gut have been used. The standard shuttlecock used in tournament play in current day is made of feathers (16 to be exact) from a goose’s left wing, thread, cork and synthetic foam covered by a thin layer of leather. For a deeper look into feather shuttlecocks and what to look out for when choosing the right ones for yourself, check out our post: The Complete Guide to Yonex Badminton Shuttlecocks (Feathered).

In recreational play, players may prefer a more durable and economical shuttlecock made from synthetic material such as nylon. In a movement towards a more environmental and sustainable shuttlecock, BWF is experimenting with a tournament grade synthetic shuttlecock that can be used in major competitions. Stay tuned for a revolutionary change in the sport of badminton!

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  1. Hi,
    well, I hope so. But I’ve never though that, previously, I’m always looking for a headlight racquet. Not an offensive type of player though.

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