Badminton – The Epic Sport
Badminton is the second most played sport in the world. You gotta be kidding me, I hear you say? Afraid not, and I was also very surprised to hear it. It’s even more surprising to learn that more people play badminton than basketball, golf, tennis and a whole host of other sports. Unsurprisingly, football (or soccer) tops the list. But back to badminton. An estimated 220 million people play badminton regularly, and once you recover from your initial shock at hearing these statistics, you may be keen to find out the reasons why this sport is so popular.
First a little background information:
Badminton is a racquet sport played by either two or four opposing players that must hit a small object called a shuttlecock over a dividing net. As each player proceeds to strike the shuttlecock towards their opponents side of the court, a series of continuous strikes, or what is known as a rally, begins. The rally continues until the shuttlecock lands on one side of the designated court area, or strikes the net and falls to the floor, with the player then winning a point. Each game is played to 21 points, and a player must win the best of three games to win a match. While the actual roots of the game are a little vague, an early form of badminton is first thought to have been played more than 400 years ago.
With such a long and illustrious history, it should probably come as no surprise to learn just how badminton became the popular sport it is today. However, it was the sports accreditation as an Olympic event in 1992 which propelled badminton on to the world stage and helped boost its global appeal. The Olympic committee has a lot to be proud of, and there is little doubt that it has done wonders to raise the profile of sports such as badminton. Even so, there are competitive national badminton leagues in many countries throughout the world, and even in countries which are dominated by other sports, large numbers of people will play badminton recreationally to keep fit.
What are the health benefits to playing badminton regularly?
Badminton is an aerobic sport and players are required to have a general level of fitness to play. As the shuttlecock can travel at rapid speeds through the air, but then quickly drop towards the ground, players must be agile, strong and have good stamina. The use of the racquet also requires the player to have good motor coordination. The sports governing body, the Badminton World Federation, claim that badminton offers multiple health benefits and promotes longevity in older people. Among the health benefits listed include: the reduction of bad cholesterol, reduced risk of cardiovascular problems and weight control. In addition, regular exercise and participation in sports that involve competition against one or a number of players increases self-esteem, well being, motivation, and reduces anxiety, stress and depression.
In which countries around the world is badminton most popular?
Of the 220 million people that regularly play badminton, a majority of those live in Asia, specifically in China and South Korea. Although a number of different sports are also popular in these countries, the national affection for badminton surpasses even basketball and table tennis. Why is that? Well, focusing on China, there are a number of reasons for this, with the main one being that badminton is a non-contact game that has been played for decades by children in schools and colleges throughout the country. China has been able to translate this youthful love for the game into a dedicated group of men and women who compete internationally at the highest level. China’s recent success in badminton at the London 2012 Olympics is testament to the country’s love of the sport. Furthermore, the game is as popular among adults as it is among children. On a calm, quiet day in almost every city around the country, parents and grandparents can be seen playing badminton within their apartment complex and in local parks.
The coverage badminton receives from the media in Asia is another reason why the sport continues to be so popular there. Asia’s top badminton players are treated like celebrities, with their every move being followed and documented by journalists. These players also earn lucrative advertising contracts, promoting various products ranging from sports clothing to chewing gum. National championships and other domestic tournaments are also given plenty of air time, far more than the coverage badminton would receive in European countries or in the USA.
It then came as something of a surprise to learn that the popularity of badminton in Asia is now seen as a threat to the viability of the game at the highest level. There were a number of unsavoury incidents during the London 2012 Olympic Games, when a number of players were accused of unsportsmanship by not attempting to win certain group games in order to ensure their top players made it to the final. After the Badminton World Federation reviewed the games, two Chinese players were among eight in total from Asia that were expelled from the tournament and sent home, much to the embarrassment of officials and dismay of fans. While it is now clear that Asia’s dominance of the game at the highest level requires fresh competition from other countries, the authorities hope that badminton’s continued popularity will spur on a new generation of top players that will create tournaments and competitions that will be remembered for competitiveness and skill above all else.