Games employing shuttlecocks have been played for centuries across Eurasia, but the modern game of badminton developed in the mid-19th century among the British as a variant of the earlier game of battledore and shuttlecock. ("Battledore" was an older term for "racquet".) Its exact origin remains obscure. The name derives from the Duke of Beaufort 's Badminton House in Gloucestershire, but why or when remains unclear. As early as 1860, a London toy dealer named Isaac Spratt published a booklet entitled Badminton Battledore – A New Game, but no copy is known to have survived. An 1863 article in The Cornhill Magazine describes badminton as "battledore and shuttlecock played with sides, across a string suspended some five feet from the ground".
The game may have originally developed among expatriate officers in British India, where it was very popular by the 1870s. Ball badminton, a form of the game played with a wool ball instead of a shuttlecock, was being played in Thanjavur as early as the 1850s and was at first played interchangeably with badminton by the British, the woollen ball being preferred in windy or wet weather.
Early on, the game was also known as Poona or Poonah after the garrison town of Poona, where it was particularly popular and where the first rules for the game were drawn up in 1873. By 1875, officers returning home had started a badminton club in Folkestone. Initially, the sport was played with sides ranging from 1 to 4 players, but it was quickly established that games between two or four competitors worked the best. The shuttlecocks were coated with India rubber and, in outdoor play, sometimes weighted with lead. Although the depth of the net was of no consequence, it was preferred that it should reach the ground.
The sport was played under the Pune rules until 1887, when J. H. E. Hart of the Bath Badminton Club drew up revised regulations. In 1890, Hart and Bagnel Wild again revised the rules. The Badminton Association of England (BAE) published these rules in 1893 and officially launched the sport at a house called "Dunbar" in Portsmouth on 13 September. The BAE started the first badminton competition, the All England Open Badminton Championships for gentlemen's doubles, ladies' doubles, and mixed doubles, in 1899. Singles competitions were added in 1900 and an England–Ireland championship match appeared in 1904.
England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and New Zealand were the founding members of the International Badminton Federation in 1934, now known as the Badminton World Federation. India joined as an affiliate in 1936. The BWF now governs international badminton. Although initiated in England, competitive men's badminton has traditionally been dominated in Europe by Denmark. Worldwide, Asian nations have become dominant in international competition. China, Denmark, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, South Korea, Taiwan (as Chinese Taipei) and Japan are the nations which have consistently produced world-class players in the past few decades, with China being the greatest force in men's and women's competition recently.
The game has also become a popular backyard sport in the United States.
Badminton, court or lawn game played with lightweight rackets and a shuttlecock. Historically, the shuttlecock (also known as a “bird” or “birdie”) was a small cork hemisphere with 16 goose feathers attached and weighing about 0.17 ounce (5 grams). These types of shuttles may still be used in modern play, but shuttles made from synthetic materials are also allowed by the Badminton World Federation. The game is named for Badminton, the country estate of the dukes of Beaufort in Gloucestershire, England, where it was first played about 1873. The roots of the sport can be traced to ancient Greece, China, and India, and it is closely related to the old children’s game battledore and shuttlecock. Badminton is derived directly from poona, which was played by British army officers stationed in India in the 1860s. The first unofficial all-England badminton championships for men were held in 1899, and the first badminton tournament for women was arranged the next year.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF; originally the International Badminton Federation), the world governing body of the sport, was formed in 1934. Badminton is also popular in Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and Denmark. The BWF’s first world championships were held in 1977. A number of regional, national, and zonal badminton tournaments are held in several countries. The best-known of these is the All-England Championships. Other well-known international tournaments include the Thomas Cup (donated 1939) for men’s team competition and the Uber Cup (donated 1956) for women’s team competition.
Badminton first appeared in the Olympic Games as a demonstration sport in 1972 and as an exhibition sport in 1988. At the 1992 Games it became a full-medal Olympic sport, with competition for men’s and women’s singles (one against one) and doubles (two against two). Mixed doubles was introduced at the 1996 Games.
Competitive badminton is usually played indoors because even light winds affect the course of the shuttlecock. (Recreational badminton, on the other hand, is a popular outdoor summertime activity.) The rectangular court is 44 feet (13.4 metres) long and 17 feet (5.2 metres) wide for singles, 20 feet (6.1 metres) wide for doubles. A net 5 feet (1.5 metres) high stretches across the width of the court at its centre. A clear space of 4 feet (1.3 metres) around the court is needed. Play consists entirely of volleying—hitting the shuttlecock back and forth across the net without letting it touch the floor or ground within the boundaries of the court.
In international play, athletes compete in best-of-three-games matches. A game is played to 21 points, provided that the winner has at least a 2-point advantage. If a 2-point advantage is never reached, the first player or team to score 30 points wins. Points were only awarded to the serving side until 2006, when the BWF adopted the “rally scoring” system, under which either side can score at any time.