How Did Badminton Become an Olympic Sport? A Stroll Through Badminton History

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Badminton is a sport that many people play in the summer months as a popular lawn game, but did you know that it is also an Olympic sport? 

Badminton became a demonstration sport in the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany. But it wasn’t until 1992 that singles and doubles badminton was introduced in the Barcelona-held Olympics. Mixed doubles came at the next summer Olympic games held in Atlanta. As one of the more niche sports, only a handful of countries have won Olympic medals in badminton. 

The countries that have done well in badminton include: China, Indonesia, South Korea, Denmark, and Malaysia. China has dominated the games with winning 47 medals in this sport since it was introduced to the Olympics!

Badminton at the Olympics, Tokyo 2020
Badminton at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Women’s Singles.

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Road to the Olympics

Badminton as we know it today did not start out as the same game. Its predecessor was a game known as battledore and shuttlecock. It was played by early civilizations in Eurasia. It was fairly similar to badminton where two people would hit a shuttlecock, usually made up of cork and feathers, back and forth with two bats. The goal was to keep the shuttlecock from hitting the ground.

The 1800s saw a similar game known as Poona from India. British officers stationed in India discovered this game, which was reminiscent of battledore and shuttlecock. However, the Indian version of the game also had a net dividing the two players, giving them each a side. The officers took the game back to England with them. The Duke of Beaufort took a liking to the game and began introducing it to his guests as badminton.

Poona, Battledore and Badminton
Poona, Battledore and Badminton

The game grew in popularity and in 1898, the English town of Guilford held open championships. These games continue to this day. Initially, there were only doubles teams, but singles matches have been added since that time. The world began to learn more about badminton as it grew in popularity. 

The International Badminton Federation (IBF) was formed in 1934 and included England, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Holland (or current day, the Netherlands), New Zealand, and even France. India joined just a few years later. Badminton became a Commonwealth Games sport in 1966, but it took until 1992 for the sport to make it to the Olympic Games. 

Demonstration Sport at the Munich Games

In the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, badminton was included for the first time as a demonstration sport. There were two courts set up in a volleyball hall where approximately 3,000 spectators enjoyed watching the games on just a single day of the games. The demonstration was organized by the German Badminton Association.

Although it was one of the smaller events, there were 25 players from 11 nations that took place in the singles and doubles matches. The demonstration games were limited in time and only men’s and mixed doubles were held with no women’s doubles included. Surprising to some, several of the entries included players on the same team who were from different nations. 

In the demonstration games, Indonesia and Great Britain’s players showed great success. The tournament was seen as a huge success for the games and the crowd was enthusiastic. Since the sport was received with such enthusiasm, the players were hoping that it would be selected as a proper game for the Olympics in 1976, which would have taken place in Canada.

Progress Stalled for Badminton’s Inclusion as an Olympic Sport

Although interest in the sport remained high, badminton’s inclusion to the Olympic games stalled due to a sensitive political issue on the official badminton federation front. The IBF was challenged when a parallel body that called themselves the World Badminton Federation (WBF) was formed. 

The split of the group derailed the group’s process towards badminton joining as an Olympic sport. Efforts for reuniting the groups were made by both parties and they signed a deed of unification in 1981. 

The united group took on the original IBF name and began holding their own world championships. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Samaranch attended the championships in 1983. He was impressed by the amazing displays during the games. Believing that the sport would add to the Olympic program, he encouraged the committee to accept the game as an official sport. 

Badminton Recognized as an Olympic Game

The work of Juan Samaranch is certainly notable, but it was also the efforts of IBF presidents Stellan Mohlin and Craig Reedie who pushed for the sport to be included in the Oympics. The IOC meeting in 1985 saw the acceptance of badminton as an official sport. It would have been perfect to have the sport showcased officially in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, but the Oympic Charter states that there has to be a period of seven years for the introduction of a new sport. This meant that the badminton world had to remain patient until the 1992 games in Barcelona for the sport to be debuted officially. 

Badminton did appear at the 1988 Olympic games, but only as an exhibition sport. Since it was not a demonstration sport, players were not able to stay in the Olympic village or march in the opening ceremony. The Korean Organizing Committee housed the players and made it look like an Olympic sport. Overall, the event was hugely popular with a full house of 5,000 spectators watching 30 of the best players in the world duking it out. 

Badminton Finally Makes its Debut

Badminton finally saw its debut as an official medal sport in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The player who struck the first shuttlecock was Malaysia’s Foo Kok Keong. The game saw 37 countries participate with a total of 178 players. Four events were held in the first competition – singles and doubles for both men and women. There were no mixed doubles played in badminton’s first Olympics. However, the games were very popular and one event for women’s doubles actually had a TV viewership of 150 million people!

Badminton at the Olympics
Badminton at The Olympics

The mixed doubles event was added as a 5th event in the follow 1996 Summer Olympic games in Atlanta. 

Badminton is a sport with a rich history and well deserves its place among the Olympic games today. Badminton continues to be a part of the Olympic games and remains popular among players and spectators who enjoy the fast-moving sport. 

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