From 9 to 166: The Family Grows17 August, 2016
When the nine founding members met on 5 July 1934 to create the International Badminton Federation, the sport was still very much a British game.
Those nine comprised the four British home countries - England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales - while Denmark, France and the Netherlands represented the European continent, and Canada and New Zealand provided the worldwide perspective.
The paramount international competition in those days was the All England Championships, dominated by the English players with only occasional successes for others. But India joined in 1935 as the first Asian member, and Australia, Sweden, Malaya and the USA followed, so that by 1938, the federation counted 14 members in four continents. In 1940 South Africa joined, to put the fifth continent on the list.
Today it has 166 member associations and is still counting. As the BWF it is a thriving, successful summer Olympics international federation, by any measure. Growth and progress have certainly happened - but how? Why did badminton succeed in the strong competitive world of international sports?
Badminton is the best game, simply, some will answer. It is easy to begin playing, but extremely hard and demand into play at an international level. It is technically, physically, and mentally demanding. lt is also one of the fastest of all games.
Badminton appeals to players from ages 5 to 95 or even older. It appeals to men and women equally - they even compete together in mixed doubles at the highest level, a unique feature of our game and a most attractive one.
Badminton makes super television, and it is not too hard to roll out a court, invite a few players, and get an event going. So, of course, badminton is a success, because the sport deserves it!
Well, yes, but how did the world learn about that? Who did what to spread the game worldwide and make it grow? Sir George Thomas took the initiative by creating the IBF in 1934 and establishing badminton as more than just a national game. It was our first milestone.
In the 1930's, at least three other factors combined to get the federation off the ground. Even before the IBF was born, Major J.D.M. McCallum started sending his team, called The Strollers, to tour the European continent, where its exhibitions and games against local players did much to initiate and promote international badminton.
Then in 1938 the IBF employed Herbert Scheele as its honorary secretary, a position he held until 1976. Scheele more orless became a personification of the IBF, and his contribution to the growth of badminton, with the AII England Championships as the jewel in the crown can hardly be overestimated.
And in 1939 Sir George Thomas created the Thomas Cup, obviously inspired by the Davis Cup of tennis, and donated this magnificent trophy, still the foremost of our game.
War time inactivity meant that badminton's growth in the 1940's was slow. By 1949, when the Thomas Cup was first played, the membership total was a sweet 16 - just as in 1940. However, the successful Thomas Cup, and the Malayan triumph, surely had an impact.
In the next five years the membership doubled to 32 with many new members coming from Asia, including such strong and important badminton nations as Indonesia, Japan and Thailand. Badminton now became the national sport in places like Indonesia and Malaysia, where large. enthusiastic crowds gave the game a giant leap forwards.
Worldwide, badminton grew steadily in the next ten years. The annual AII England remained the pinnacle of the season, and the game, at least in Europe, was seasonal, played from September to March only.
Visionary leaders in IBF, primarily Stellan Mohlin and Craig Reedie, now realised that it was time to take the next step -towards becoming an Olympic Sport! The first enquiries in the mid 1960's told them that important reforms were necessary: badminton needed an official World Championships and a continental structure with official continental championships. Only Asia already had that.
Mohlin took the initiative, with the Helvetia Cup founder Hans-Peter Kunz from Switzerland, of establishing the European Badminton Union in 1967 and of having the first European Championships played in Bochum, Germany, in 1968. The Pan American Badminton Confederation was created soon after, and also the African Badminton Federation.
It was, however, much more difficult to agree on an official World Championships. The AII England championships had served in this capacity for many decades, and served exceedingly well. And the AII England was very close to the heart of Mr. Badminton, the IBF honorary secretary Herbert Scheele, who by then had served the federation well for more than 30 years, as well as to the hearts of many other officials of the IBF, which in those days was still dominated by representatives with a British background.
Not until in the early days of May 1977 were the first official World Championships was played, at Malmo, Sweden, by which time Stellan Mohlin had become IBF President and Herbert Scheele had retired.
Meanwhile the efforts to make badminton a summer Olympic sport had made much progress. Badminton was played as an exhibition sport at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and with success.
The membership reached 55 by 1976. However a major conflict was arising over the representation of China, and in 1977 came a split (described in the article, The Reunification of Badminton by Craig Reedie). Membership dropped to 42, and Olympic dreams were put on the back burner.
Reunification came in 1981, China became a member, providing the world's best players for the next generation, and badminton was back on its Olympic track. A young, dynamic President, Craig Reedie, diligently promoted badminton in the top Olympic circles.
IOC President J.A. Samaranch became convinced in 1983 when he attended the third World Championships in Copenhagen. They produced a legendary men's singles final between lcuk Sugiarto and Liem Swie King, both Indonesians, and on June 5th, 1985, badminton was elected a summer Olympic sport at the International Olympic Committee session in East Berlin. This had enormous impact on our game, and the size of the membership soon exploded!
The IBF became one of the first international sporting federations to establish a development committee of the council, an initiative by President Poul Erik Nielsen in 1984. Emile ter Metz of the Netherlands became the first Chair, with Charoen Wattanasin of Thailand and Torsten Berg from Denmark as the workhorse members.
A first priority for this committee was to facilitate access for new members and help them to feel welcome within the federation through the training of their administrators and coaches, as well as their players.
Other duties included approaching the Olympic solidarity movement for the creation of development plans – and to teach member countries how to get Olympic funding from the national Olympic committees.
Badminton's inclusion in the Olympics, which was supported by systematic development activities, almost doubled the membership, from 56 after reunification in 1981 to fully 108 at the sport's Olympic debut in 1992!
The success of badminton as a new sport at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona appealed to national Olympic committees worldwide and the growth of IBF continued. By 2000 there were 139 member associations.
A few technical changes, such as rally point scoring. which improves the presentation of badminton and makes it easier for television and spectators to follow, and a modified Olympic qualifying system – which meant that fully 50-member associations had players at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, compared with 28 in Sydney and 32 in Athens – have added to the attraction of badminton. It has also improved our standing as a member of the Olympic family.
By the year of the 75th anniversary, the BWF had expanded to 166 full members and a handful of associate members, and it is still growing. All populous parts of the world are well represented, and those still to be welcomed are mainly small island states or countries, where indoor sports, generally, are less attractive than outdoor activities.
Judging from the pace of growth in recent years, by the time we celebrate the BWF’s centenary it should have reached 200 member associations.
-- Torsten Berg - International Badminton... The First 75 Years