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From Battledore & Shuttlecock to Badminton The Histoty of the Sport

By B.S.
If you were to ask a passing stranger what he or she knew about the topic of Battledore and Shuttlecock, the most likely response would be either, “Battle-what and shuttle-who?” or the always popular, “Huh?” To clarify things, let me explain that Battledore and Shuttlecock was an ancient racket game from which the modern day sport of badminton was developed. The children’s game that has since grown up to become a full fledged competitive sport was devised, some say by the Greeks, around two millennia ago. Over the past two-thousand or so years, its rules have undergone a number of revisions and it has had more than a few regional names. 
The Name Game
In the early days Medieval European peasants played ‘Battledore and Shuttlecock’. By the 17th century the French courtesans amused themselves with the same game, but called it Jeu de Volant or the ‘Flying Game’. Meanwhile, the natives indigenous to the sub-continent of India enjoyed a very similar game which went by the name of ‘Poona’. When Poona was transplanted by British army officers back to Jolly Old England, the game was civilized by renaming it ‘Lawn Tennis with Shuttlecocks’. Evidently Poona’s anglicized name was found unsuitable by some, as the first English book ever published on the subject in 1860, was titled Badminton Battledore – a New Game. Still not satisfied, at some point the English book’s title was truncated. The result of the reduction in syllables became the name of the game the world now knows as ‘Badminton’ … Unless of course you reside in the Land of Smiles where the good people of Thailand only know and enjoy a racket and shuttlecock sport whose name in Thai is Bàet-mí น dtan. 
In case you’re wondering, the word “battledore” stems from the early 15th century, Middle English word of “batyldore”. I’m told that it was a wooden paddle-like utensil used by washer women to beat what passed for clothes in medieval times, clean! The origin of the word “shuttlecock” is unclear. Apparently it has no meaning, other than that of being the object which was long ago struck back and forth by a pair of battledores or shuttled to and fro today by twin rackets.
Badminton’s Beginnings
Despite being credited with conceiving the game, no one really knows what title the ancient Greek’s bestowed upon their creation. Those who study this sort of thing, swear that the sport migrated to the east – not west. Apparently, it first turned up in what the Greeks referred to as the Indus Region or what you and I now know as modern day India. Overtime, the game migrated even further east along the ancient trade route called the ‘Silk Road’ to the Asian nations of China, Japan and to the land that would in the future become Siam.
Indian Improvements
As a result of the Third Anglo- Maratha War (I never heard of it either) between the Marathas and the British, the city of Poona, which is now pronounced “Pune” and is the ninth largest city in all of India was seized and garrisoned by the British Army in 1817. It is to this city that modern badminton can trace its roots. To pass time, British officers posted to the garrison there learned to play a fast-paced local game which they called ‘Poona’. Poona was remarkably similar in every respect to Battledore and Shuttlecock except for the fact that the shuttlecock had to be hit over a net or a string. When the officer’s wives played Poona as a popular outdoor social pastime, the game was often referred to by the much gentler name of “Hit and Scream”. No one knows for sure, but it was said that in 1873, the first rules for the game using a net were written by the officers who played the game named after the Indian city in which they served. Upon their return to England in the 1870s, the soldiers brought both the rules and the equipment necessary to play the game home with them.
English Refinements
Hit and Scream, played under the rules that prevailed in British India rapidly became one of England’s favorite outdoor pastimes. An English magazine article described it as “Battledore and shuttlecock played with sides, across a string suspended some five feet from the ground.” As the game grew in popularity, a slim volume titled “Lawn Tennis, Croquet, Racquets, etc.” was published in which ten pages were devoted to, “Lawn tennis played with shuttlecocks instead of balls.” When the game was in its infancy, a version called ‘Ball Badminton’ was played using balls of wool instead of a shuttlecock. Evidently, the heavier woolen balls performed better under windy or wet conditions. The game was played both indoors and outdoors on a court curiously shaped like an hourglass. The playing field’s unusual shape was attributed to the fact that the game was often played in spacious Victorian salons whose large double doors opened inwards at the center on both sides of the playing surface. The rectangular shaped badminton court did not become official until 1901.
Credit for the sport’s official name of ‘Badminton’ goes to the Duke of Beaufort who is said to have officially introduced the game of Poona to English aristocracy in the early 1870’s. Rumor has it that during a lawn party at his country estate, whose name just so happened to be ‘Badminton’, the imported game of Poona was a huge success. Following that, the British elite, who so enjoyed the game, henceforth always referred to Poona as “The Badminton Game”. Therefore, today’s sport was named after the location of the grounds on which the party game was first played by England’s ruling class. As The Badminton Game grew in stature, English Badminton clubs were formed and the rules of the game were standardized. In 1893, the disparate British clubs were amalgamated into the Badminton Association of England, and a uniform set of rules that governed all badminton clubs was established. Then in 1899, the first All England Championships were held and a world class sport was born.
Going Global
As England’s top players moved off the lawns and out of the fashionable salons onto competitive courts, the sport now officially known as Badminton spread to other countries around the globe. This unexpected phenomenon spawned the need for an international badminton organization. In 1934 the International Badminton Federation, which is now known as the Badminton World Federation (BWF) was established in Kent, England to organize international competitions and to develop and regulate the sport globally. The BWF now presides over numerous international competitions. Most notable being the Thomas Cup, instituted by Sir George Thomas in 1939 for the top men’s single player, and the Uber Cup created by Betty Uber, one of England’s top female players, in 1956 for the best women’s singles player. The BWF is also responsible for badminton’s annual World Championship games in which more than 150 member nations compete for the title of world champion.
The Olympics first showcased badminton in both the 1972, and 1988 Olympic Games, but only as a demonstration sport. Badminton didn’t officially compete for the coveted gold, silver and bronze medals until the XXV Olympiad held in Barcelona, Spain in 1992. Since then, all but seven of the 61 total medals awarded for badminton were won by Asian nations. Just as professional footballers and baseball players have been doing for decades, today’s top badminton athletes also compete for top honors, prize money, television contracts and the always lucrative product endorsements.
Asian Ancestry
Regardless of what one calls it, badminton’s history is both colorful and cosmopolitan.
Despite being spawned in the classical Mediterranean world, and having a net added in India, and the fact that its rules were finalized by the British, Asia was the continent that truly embraced the peculiarly named game of Battledore and Shuttlecock as its own.
Today China and Japan currently dominate the international badminton scene. In fact, fifteen out of the top ten ranked men’s and women’s competitors are from Asian nations: seven from China, three from Japan, two from Taiwan, two from South Korea, and one from Thailand. The remaining five male and female players that make up 2015’s top twenty athletes are of European or Indian extraction. Because of this, it’s not unusual for matches held in any of the above mentioned Asian countries to draw crowds numbering 15,000 fans or greater. Spectators in excess of the aforementioned 15K figure are expected to flock to Jakarta Indonesia to see for themselves the most prestigious tournament in all of badminton – the BWF World Championship, held this year on August 10 to 16. During which, the entire Kingdom of Thailand will be cheering for Khun Ratchanok Intanon, the youngest player ever to win the BWF women’s singles championship. She did so at the tender young age of eighteen, just two years ago in 2013. She’s also this year’s third highest ranked female player.
Rules & Description
Since its inception, Battledore and Shuttlecock, a rustic game played by two individuals in which a projectile (shuttlecock), made form some light material such as a cork trimmed with feathers, was hit back and forth with a primitive bat (battledore), made from parchment or animal gut strung across a wooden frame, as many times as possible without allowing it to fall to the ground, has changed dramatically. In case you’re wondering, a volley of 2,117 hits is the record for the most consecutive Battledore and Shuttlecock hits. This feat was allegedly accomplished by members of the Somerset family back in 1830.
The modern rules of Badminton dictate that each game be played until one side reaches 21 points. However, if the game is tied at 20 or 21 all, play must continue until one side wins by a minimum of two points. If the score remains tied up to a maximum of 30 points, after that it’s possible to win the game by a minimum of just one point. A single point is earned at the end of each volley regardless of whether the scoring side served or received (an older set of rules only allowed the serving side to score). The side that serves is determined by a cast or spinning of the shuttlecock.  The side to which the shuttlecock points is allowed to either choose option ‘A’ – whether they wish to serve or receive, or option ‘B’ – which side of the court they wish to play on. The opponent is left with whatever option was not chosen. A match is the best of three games.
Just about anyone can pick up a lightweight badminton racket and hit a shuttlecock back and forth on or off a court, and with or without a net. Despite being a simple and easy game to play, badminton is a bit deceptive as it is the fastest of all the racket sports. When powerfully struck the shuttlecock has been clocked at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, and a single player can expect to run approximately one mile during a three game match. Ten years ago I purchased a badminton set comprised of three shuttlecocks and two rackets from Big C for the unbelievable low price of 150 baht! For four years it accompanied me to the pool nearly every day, and the game was played in various ways by just about every person in the complex who spent time poolside. In terms of value for money, that cheap set of badminton equipment was probably the best investment I ever made in the Land of Smiles.