Badminton Review

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Badminton has been around for a very long time in one form or another. Historians offer examples of it being played in Greece, China and India as long ago as 100 BC. In its original state, the game involved a piece of cork with a few feathers stuck into it being kept aloft by a group of players working together. My first contact with the game very much reflected this humble beginning.

I have a vivid childhood memory of looking at my granny through a badminton net that had been carefully strung up in her back garden. The net was maroon in colour and had a thick white ribbon along the top. You got hopelessly tangled up in it if you got too close. The rackets were silver with strings that looked like very thin black and white candy canes. The grips were fake black leather with gold coloured markings that flaked off after a few games on a hot afternoon. Underneath the fake leather, the handle of the racket was wooden, but you weren’t supposed to know that because you weren’t supposed to pick at the grip when it started to come loose.

The shuttlecock had a red rubber cap on a white plastic base that was good to chew if you could get away with taking a bite before a grown up saw you with it in your mouth. Many years later, I discovered that you could buy the whole lot for a few quid from Woolworth’s, but at the time I was sure my granny had magically conjured the game and all its trappings out of thin air, as grannies were wont to do.

The game I played with my granny resembled the original form because the aim of it was to keep the rally going for as long as possible, rather than to beat the person on the other side of the net. We would count out loud as we hit it back and forth.

In the 1860s, some British soldiers stationed in India took this idiotic, airy-fairy pastime and turned it into a proper sport by adding a net, a clearly defined playing area and some stiff rules to be obeyed without question. They called it, rather unimaginatively, poona, after the town in India where they first played their version of the game. In 1873, the same imaginative process was at work when the Duke of Beaufort gathered his friends to his country estate (Badminton) for a garden party and to introduce them to a new game from the mysterious East.

I imagine the guests at that first garden party would have a hard time recognising the game the top players play today. For one thing, they’d be at least 125 years old and therefore unlikely to recognise their own faces in the mirror let alone anything else, but the game, now considered to be the fastest racket sport in the world, has made some advances too.

I love badminton and have played it off and on many times since those early days in my granny’s back garden. I have huge admiration for the top players, especially in the singles, which is a much more technically difficult and physically arduous game than they ever make it look.

Like table tennis, badminton can produce moments of magic that make all the participants smile, regardless of who won the point. In a sense, those moments are reflections of the game returning to its original form in which everyone worked together to stop the shuttlecock hitting the ground. I know I ended the badminton leg of this Olympic challenge by thrashing the net with my racket in frustration at having lost, so maybe I’m not the best person to say it, but those moments are the ones that live up to the Olympic ideal my mother used to preach at me in French – those are the moments when it’s better to be taking part than to be winning.


SwissToni said...

come on you lazy bastard - have you done nothing worth updating your loyal audience on?

I'm thinking about changing my sponsorship deal to be on a per event basis. Done any swimming yet?