Badminton in Indonesia and China Part 2

Sonneville 1962 3

By the early 1960s, Indonesia was the top badminton nation in the world. The sport had arrived in Medan in the 1930s, when advertisements for equipment started to appear in local newspapers, and it then spread firstly through the Chinese minority community, who invited Malaysian Chinese players over from Penang to play in exhibition matches.

But it soon also caught on with the rest of the population, producing international stars such as Ferry Sonneville (above). Sonneville led Indonesia to victory in the 1958 Thomas Cup, succeeding Malaysia as champions, and beat Erland Kops of Denmark on the way.

The government then made a momentous decision. It placed citizenship restrictions on people of Chinese ancestry born in Indonesia. Many of them chose to depart for China, including some promising young badminton players. China gained a team from nothing.

I have previously outlined the three ways in which sports move from country to country, imperial expansion, movement between neighbouring countries and immigration. All three are required to explain badminton’s route from Great Britain to China: via empire to Malaysia; across the sea to Indonesia; and then through enforced migration to China.

Indonesia postage stamp Badminton-1961

In 1961, Indonesia retained the Thomas Cup, completing a double which was celebrated on a postage stamp (above). But despite its poor treatment of its Chinese people, it was beginning to form closer political ties with China and, when it hosted the Asian Games in 1962, it would find itself on a collision course with the administrators of global sport.

Before Nixon, China was excluded from most international competition. Only the table tennis federation, led by British communist, Ivor Montagu, allowed it to be a member.

But Indonesia invited its ally to the Asian Games in Jakarta, even sending blank pieces of paper instead of identity cards to the delegation from Taiwan. Its IOC membership was suspended as a result and Indonesia reacted by creating its own Olympic Games.

The event took place in Jakarta in November 1963 and was known as the Games of the New Emerging Forces. Teams from newly independent countries in Asia and Africa were invited, alongside major powers from the Communist world, including, of course, China.

The badminton tournament was a rare opportunity for Indonesia to face China, which had never played in the Thomas Cup, and whose team included several Indonesian-born stars. It would finally be possible to determine the best badminton nation in the world.

Next week: The GANEFO Games and the most bizarre game of badminton ever played

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