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The Ancient History of Badminton

Before Iran and Iraq were countries, the area was known as Babylonia.  And this is where the game of badminton began. Although it technically wasn't a game for them.  It was more like hocus-pocus fortune telling.  The Babylonians were big on this sort of stuff, and would go to a priest (for a fee of course) to get their future told. The priest would do it in several ways: Dice, Cards, Tea Leaves, Bones, Dreams, and a few other gross ways I won't go into.

But, another technique that the so-called future predicting priest used to foresee a person's future was a ceremony rather than a one-on-one personal reading.  A crowd would form. Incense was lit. Drums were banged. Magical chants were sung. You in the mood yet?  Should be. Out comes the priest, with two participants each holding a wooden paddle. Then the priest called for silence! A hush came over the crowd, and the two people with the paddles then batted a ball made of tightly wound wool yarn back and forth.  The length of time they kept the ball in play was suppose to reveal how long they would live.

Well, this worked for a while until the people finally caught on that they were not really discovering their future because in reality they really had control over it by keeping the ball in the air as long as they wanted and so they are the ones that really had influence over their futures, not the priests.

But the idea of it all was fun.  People loved to play and watch. So over the years the fortune-telling part of it dissolved away and people just batted this yarn-made ball back and forth for the sport of it.  From Babylonia, this game spread to different places, one of which was Poona, India.  And the name of the game was Poona, after the town of it's popularity.

In the 16th century English sailors, explorers, merchants visited India and it's there they learned the game and brought it back to England.  Soon the English replaced the wooden paddle with a racket.  At first the racket didn't have strings as we know today.  Instead it was a wooden frame with leather in the center.  Later it had leather strings stretched over the frame.  And instead of the wooly ball, the English used a piece of cork into which feathers had been stuck.  At first these feathers stuck straight out.  But the players soon discovered that a fan-shaped arrangement on these feathers made for a better "bird-like" flight.

Because the game went back and forth, the term "shuttle" evolved when referring to it. Also,  the feathers used were partly made of rooster or "cock" feathers so when blending the two words the English then called the game "Shuttlecock."

Kids liked to play this game especially on a Christian holiday known as Shrove Tuesday, where being happy and having a gay ol' time was the theme.  The sport grew so popular in some English towns that they created "Shuttlecock Day."  People would crowd into the streets of all ages and batted their feather corks back and forth through the air.

In 1870 an Englishman named the Duke of Beaufort (a real sports fanatic) loved Shuttlecock and decided to throw a weekend party at his home, well mansion actually, called "Badminton House."  All the guests played (women, men, kids) and love it.  This increased the game's popularity a lot in England and people started calling it the "Badminton game" after the name of the mansion where the party was held where they played it.

By 1939, badminton had become popular worldwide.  Sir George Thomas decided that it was time that this sport have an international competition. And like in other sports, a trophy was needed.  But due to World War II, Sir Thomas's idea was put on hold.  Then in 1948 the first world badminton championship matches were held.  The winning team was from Malaya.  They beat Denmark 8 to 1.  The Malayans are the first to capture the first world badminton title and walked off with the trophy aptly named "The Thomas Cup" after Sir George Thomas who came up with the idea.

The Bath Badminton Club was organized in 1877 and developed the first written rules, which for the most part are still the ones used today. In 1893, the Badminton Association of England was founded.  The Badminton Club of New York was founded in 1878, but it was more a social club. The Badminton Club of Boston was founded in 1908 and had 300 members by 1925.  But badminton wasn't really publically popular in the United States until the 1930's.  In 1935 the American Badminton Association was founded and it had it's first national championship on April 1 (April Fools Day) in 1937.  

Badminton has struggled to become part of the summer olympics for years. It did a sports demonstration at the 1972 Summer Olympics.  And Badminton was finally added to the Olympic program in 1992 with singles, doubles competitions for men and women.  Then in 1996, they added the mixed doubles competition.  Badminton later became a Pan-American sport in 1995.  And in 1989 the U.S. Badminton Association became a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

According to a recent study about 1 million Americans play badminton now recreationally every year. However, in the 1980's it became a professional sport when the International Badminton Federation established the World Grand Prix Circuit offering prizes from $200,000 to the Grand Prix Finals of $350,000.

The greatest badminton player is Judy Devlin Hashman (from Manitoba, Canada) who won more than 50 major championships from 1954 to 1967, including 12 U.S. National Titles and 10 All-England Titles.  

Recently badminton has become more popular in the Asian countries and some of the better players are now from Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Korea, Japan and from some Scandinavian countries as well.

Which war introduced badminton to the US?
(a) Revolutionary War
(b) WWI
(c) Korean War

(Place your cursor over the dot)

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WWI  - American soldiers learnt it while in England.


history of sports link
Check out some other Sports Fun at our Main Entry Page.

Source: "When Human Heads were Footballs"
By Don L. Wulffson
Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon and Schuster) © 1998

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