From Gloucestershire to Sumatra
The name is a dead giveaway. It is derived from Badminton House, the country house in Gloucestershire where the Badminton Horse Trials are now held. The rules of the sport are said to have been standardised there, most likely by John Loraine Baldwin (above).
So how did it get from there to Indonesia, some 7,000 miles away, and then on to China, enabling those two countries in Asia to become the major badminton powerhouses?
In fact, it did not have quite so far to travel. Although the first rulebook may have been written by Baldwin, it had been played informally for many years beforehand, not only in England but also in India. There is evidence that it was influenced by an Indian game, now known as ball badminton, which is played with a lightweight ball made from wool.
British officers in India took the game home with them. As the picture below suggests, the nineteenth century form of the sport was more genteel than its modern equivalent.
The British Empire had little influence in China or Indonesia but it did have a colony in what is now Malaysia. Badminton spread there and it became very strong, winning the first three editions of the Thomas Cup between 1949 and 1955. The Thomas Cup was the top international event at the time, badminton’s version of the Davis Cup in tennis.
But Great Britain was not the first foreign visitor to the region. The Chinese explorer, Zheng He, forged trade links in the fifteenth century, resulting in there being a large Chinese minority community in Malaysia. Most of the top Malaysian players, such as Lee Chong Wei, the double Olympic silver medallist, have been of Chinese ethnicity.
There were many Chinese people on Penang, an island off the coast of Malaysia whose capital, George Town, had been founded by the British. There was also a large Chinese population in Indonesia, especially working in the port of Medan, on Sumatra island.
Penang is just 170 miles away from Medan by sea. Boats were still the most important form of long distance travel and there were firm links between the two. It was almost as though you could hit a shuttlecock in Malaysia and, if it caught a strong gust of wind, it would be blown all the way across the Strait of Malacca before landing in Indonesia.
Next week: How a mistake by Indonesia’s government allowed China to rule the sport