Here’s a trivia question that will stump many people: Can you name the two most popular sports in the world?
One of your answers will probably be football, and it should be no surprise that it is No. 1–but it’s not the football where that scores touchdowns; it’s one that involves GOOOOOOOOALLLLSSS. If you are surprised by that fact, it’s likely a mild surprise given its worldwide following.
The second most popular, though, may shock you. It sure did me. Maybe you guessed basketball. Baseball? Cricket?
Well, three strikes, and you’re out. Instead, the answer is the sport with terms such as flicks, birdies, and shuttlecocks…
Incredibly, more than 220 million people play badminton each year, the second-most played sport worldwide. When it debuted in the 1992 Olympics, over 1.1 million people turned on the television to watch, making it the most-watched event in those Games.
Not many people know much about badminton in America. Some consider it a rough combination of tennis and volleyball. Since it didn’t debut in the Olympics until just 31 years ago, casual observers may consider it a new sport. Despite that, the sport has deep and old roots, even if the question of who invented badminton still rages.
So…Who Invented Badminton?
While badminton wasn’t officially invented until 1873, the origins are much deeper. There are records of people playing with a shuttlecock with their feet more than 2,000 years ago in Europe and Asia during the BC era. To further explain, a shuttlecock is the sport’s object which you hit back and forth; it’s a cone-shaped projectile with goose feathers attached and a round-corked base.
In 1856, the royal family in Tamil Nadu, India, introduced a wooden racket but used more of a light woolen ball instead of a shuttlecock. The royal family would use the rackets we are used to seeing today in badminton to hit the ball back and forth.
The European Impact
With the game picking up some steam, British officers stationed in Poona, India, started playing it and added a few subtle changes that would alter it forever. In 1867, they added a net and started using battledores, or wooden bats with handles. They also used a shuttlecock instead of a woolen ball.
The officers also added rules and wanted to give it a name. They had the chance to come up with whatever name they wanted for the sport. So these creative geniuses decided to name it Poona.
The game picked up some fame not just in India but back home in England because the officers spread the word. People would play Poona in different places, such as churches, inside homes, and on farmland. Henry St. Clair Wilkins bears the most responsibility for bringing the game to England, and The Duke of Beaufort began playing it with his guests at lawn parties.
The Duke, so intrigued by the sport, wanted to take it further. Not a fan of the name “Poona,” he instead called it badminton, named after the estate he lived in, The Badminton House in Gloucestershire. He took the British officers’ game and blessed it with his royal power. And because of this, The Duke of Beaufort would become “The Godfather of Badminton.”
By 1877, The Bath Badminton Club was created, the sport’s first official club. During the 1880s, the club added more rules, tweaking others. Then by 1893, the Badminton Association of England was formed, and before long, players started participating in tournaments.
The Sporting Era of Badminton
Ironically, tennis and badminton were both officially introduced as sports in 1877, and the All-England Club, most notorious for hosting Wimbledon, also hosted badminton matches before its spread.
In 1934, the International Badminton Federation (IBF) came into existenc, and the sport truly took off from there. The IBF started with nine countries and has since expanded to 173. After already gaining popularity in Europe, made its way to other parts of the world, including America. Hollywood stars like Bette Davis became fascinated with it, and soon it spread to educational institutions, YMCAs, and badminton courts. By 1992, the International Olympic Committee introduced it as a medal sport in the Barcelona Olympics.
To this day, debates still exist over who invented badminton – India or England. The simple answer is that it’s a combination of both. Today’s sport is a mix of what started in India and moved over to England. Even when the English altered the rules, they used some of India’s initial inventions, like the racket, instead of battledoors.
If you’ve ever watched badminton on television, you have an idea of the intensity behind it. Professionals play at an extremely swift pace, slamming shuttlecocks around on the court and hitting all sorts of creative shots and flicks. For beginners, it’s an entertaining game, like a mixture of tennis and volleyball, with even a hint of ping-pong because of its fast-paced nature. We may not think of it as the world’s second most popular sport because it rarely graces TV, but players can quickly see its appeal.
So get out there, find a net and a court, and flick those shuttlecocks around. You may find a new favorite pastime.