The origins of badminton can be traced back thousands of years though it was not formalised into the game we know today until the 19th century.
Badminton takes its name from Badminton House – home of the Duke of Beaufort in the English county of Gloucestershire. Though the estate is now better known for horse trials and hunting, it is credited as the formal birthplace of the racquet sport. But badminton’s roots date back thousands of years.
Sports played with a shuttlecock and racquets probably developed in ancient Greece around 2000 years ago but are also mentioned in India and China. In England a children’s game known as “battledore and shuttlecock” in which players used a paddle – a battledore – to keep a small feathered cork – a shuttlecock – in the air as long as possible – was popular from medieval times.
In the 17th century, Battledore or Jeu de Volant was an upper class pastime in many European countries. Versions of the game had been played for centuries by children in the Far East, and were adapted by British Army officers stationed in Pune (or Poona), India in the 1860s. They added a net and the game became a competitive sport called “poona”, with documented rules in 1867.
In 1873 the sport made its way back to England and gained its current title after guests at a Badminton House lawn party held by the Duke of Beaufort introduced it to their friends as “the Badminton game”. It was credit to its popularity that in 1877 the first set of written rules was laid out by the Bath Badminton Club. A national organising body followed 16 years later with the setting up of the Badminton Federation of England, which in 1899 held the first All England Championships.
Badminton’s popularity grew dramatically in the 20th century and it soon became a major racquet sport worldwide with the establishment of the International Badminton Federation in 1934. From nine founding members, the IBF now numbers 149 associate members, from Aruba to Zambia. Having been a demonstration and exhibition sport in 1972 and 1988 respectively, the sport was finally granted Olympic status for the 1992 Barcelona Games. Indonesia dominated that first Olympics, winning gold in each of the four disciplines, the countries first in Games history, and seven medals in total.
In Atlanta, when play-offs for bronze were introduced, golds were spread around. Denmark’s Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen won the men’s singles, with Bang Soo-Hyun of Korea taking the women’s title. Indonesia successfully defended the men’s doubles title with China taking gold in the women’s doubles.
In Sydney, Indonesia again held on to the men’s doubles gold, denying the Chinese a clean sweep of golds. One of the enduring attractions of badminton is that men and women can compete on more or less equal terms in mixed doubles, which made its Olympic debut as an event in Sydney. And more than a century after helping introduce the game to the world, Britain won acclaim with Simon Archer and Jo Goode taking bronze.
In Athens, Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson went one better, winning silver after a thrilling three-set badminton final, only narrowly losing to the Chinese second seeds Ling Gao and Jun Zhang.