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Part of what makes badminton a legitimate sport is the presence of one body who makes the rules. This wasn’t the case back in the day when shuttlecocks were hit with battledores. Today, one governing body makes the rules.

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The rules of badminton are made by the Badminton World Federation (BWF). The BWF is the sport’s internationally recognized governing body, consisting of about 197 countries grouped into Continental Confederations. The BWF has been making the rules since 2006, 25 years after the unification of the International Badminton Federation (IBF) and the World Badminton Federation (WBF) in 1981.

The BWF has been at the helm of the sport, overseeing international competitions and making sure that all games follow the Laws of Badminton. Read on to learn more about how and why the BWF makes and implements the rules of the sport we all love.

When Were the Current Rules of Badminton Created?

As with any sport that’s been around for a century or so, badminton has rules that have changed. Some of the rules have been in existence since the sport’s inception. Others are fairly recent.

The current rules of badminton were last updated in 2021 by the BWF. The 2021 updated version of the rules — or the Laws of Badminton — codify everything from the dimensions of the court to the rules of play. These rules also cover crucial matters involving technical officials and even what equipment players should have. The current scoring system of badminton, on the other hand, was officially adopted by the BWF in 2006, 133 years after the original scoring system was made in 1873. Of course, a lot of changes were during this period.“

One of the rules came as recently as 2018. It was a rule involving the maximum service height. I covered this in detail in my post about the history of badminton.

What Are the Rules of Badminton? What Were the Rules of Badminton?

The rules of badminton are too comprehensive to cover in one post, let alone a section. To keep it concise, I’m going to talk about rules that have undergone changes and what they changed from.

The current BWF rules include the three-game best-of-21 system, a rally-point scoring system where each side is only able to serve one time, and a fixed height service standard. These current rules are a far cry from the 1890 rules that included a side-out scoring system where there was a “second serve” after the starting team lost the service to the opposing team, a best-of-15 three-game format, and the “waist” as the basis of the service height.

Let’s go into these in greater detail, shall we?

Scoring Systems Now and Then

Let’s start with how badminton players scored points. In the 1890 rules, the scoring system was a side-out system. The side-out scoring system allowed only the servers to score points. This meant that receivers can only score points by being servers themselves. For example, imagine two players — players A and B. A is the server while B is the receiver.

A serves and causes B to miss. The point then went to A, as per the side-out scoring rule. However, if B returns the service and A misses, B doesn’t get a point. B, however, gets to serve and hope that A misses during the rally.

This rule became obsolete as of December 2005. As of 2005, the rally point system became part of the BWF rules and has since then been the scoring system followed in games.

The rally point system allows both players — regardless of who served — to score during a rally. All a player needs to do is cause the other player to miss.

Format and Score Cap Changes

Based on the original 1890 rules, the scoring cap for games was 15 points. More specifically, players played three games. Whoever won two out of three games won the match. To win one game, players had to race to 15 points.

As of 2006, the game format remained unchanged in the sense that matches were still best-of-three games. However, this time around, players had to establish two-point leads and reach 21 points to win a game.

The first player to win two out of three games is the winner.

There have been some attempts by the BWF to change the format and score cap. In 2018, the BWF experimented with a five-game race-to-11 points format. It was originally thought that the format would make for faster and more exciting games. However, the proposed changes have yet to be implemented. Currently, the 2006 format and score cap remain to be implemented.

Service Height in Past (1890) vs. the Current Service Height

The rule for the shuttlecock’s service height in 1890 was changed to the current one. The current service height rule emerged in 2018.

The 2018 rule is an amendment of a long-standing rule about where the shuttlecock needs to be at the start of service. The old rule stated that the shuttlecock needs to be below the server’s waist at the start of service. What counts as the waist? According to the old rule, it’s at the level of the player’s lowest rib.

Now, as you can imagine, there are two issues with this. First, it’s hard to determine where a player’s last rib is, especially with the player in motion. The second issue is that players have different dimensions, making the “waist” hard to standardize.

In 2018, the BWF decided on a standard number in regards to height. The rule now states that the shuttlecock must be below 1.15 meters from the court’s surface. The shuttlecock needs to be below this level when the racket makes contact with it during service.

CRAZY Badminton Saves Part 1 x
CRAZY Badminton Saves Part 1

Who Published the First Official Set of Rules for Playing Badminton?

The rules today wouldn’t be what they are had it not been for the first badminton governing body planting the seeds of thought. We’ve got one association from England to thank for this.

The Badminton Association of England (BAE) published the first iteration of what we know today as the Laws of Badminton. The BAE codified the first official rules in 1890, nine years before the first official world badminton tournament. One interesting fact to note is that while the official rules came about in 1890, their publication came three years later. According to the National Badminton Museum, it wasn’t until September 13, 1983, when the rules were declared as official to the sport.

Interestingly, there were already a set of rules governing the game as early as 1887. The rules were published by the Bath Badminton Club and were authored by J.H.E. Hart.

Hart modeled the first set of rules after Poona, the Indian game on which badminton was based. Three years later, he revised the rules. The revised rules were the ones published by the BAE in 1893.

What Were the Original Rules of Badminton?

The first official rules came about in 1893. As you can imagine, many of the rules back then were different from the ones we’re used to today.

The original rules of badminton had guidelines on the layout of the court. During the early decades of badminton, the court took on an hourglass shape. In addition to the shape of the court, the original scoring rules were also different. Back then, only servers were able to score. Players won games or sets by winning 15 points their opponents. The service rules for doubles matches were also different. The first team was only allowed a single server to serve in a game of side-out scoring. After they lose the rally, the other team starts having both player on a team getting a turn at serving before switching to their opponents. Lastly, the original service height rules required the shuttlecock to be lower than the player’s waist at the moment of service.

Hourglass Badminton Court
Hourglass Badminton Court

The BWF Rules Have Gone a Long Way

One look at the evolution of badminton rules will show you how the sport has changed. As you compare the rules then and the rules now, it’s easy to think of how crude they were back then.

The early pioneers of the game have revised rules acknowledging shortcomings in the originals. Without the flaws, the rules wouldn’t be as clear-cut as they are today.

The BWF continues to look into today’s rules and revise as needed. With the BWF at the sport’s helm, we can look forward to the game becoming better.


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