The Wood Shot Law’s Roller-Coaster Ride17 May, 2016
Of the many issues that dogged the International Badminton Federation (IBF) from time to time, the quaintest appears to be the ‘Wood Shot’ law.
This particular law vexed administrators through the 1930s until the early 1960s. It is a measure of how far the game has moved since then that players today would scarcely be able to appreciate the relevance of that rule in the age of the wooden racket.
The forerunner of the IBF was the Badminton Association, formed in 1893, which framed several of its laws from older codes privately drawn up. The first officially recognised set of laws had no mention of the wood shot. Law 10 (g) dealt with faulty strokes: “It is a fault… if the shuttlecock be hit twice by the same player, or be hit both by a player and his partner.”
Gradually, the problem of players slinging the shuttle (instead of striking it), began to manifest, and in 1900, the following words were added to Law 10 (h): “or if the shuttle be not distinctly hit.”
However, this was often misinterpreted and by 1932, the law had become contentious. The term ‘wood shot’ had not yet been coined; all faulty shots were called ‘double hits’ or simply ‘doubles’. Players started to interpret the law according to their own perceptions: some started calling their opponents’ stroke a ‘double hit’, whether the shuttle hit the frame or even the gut. While sporting players conceded the point, the less sporting ones did not, leading to resentment all around.
To distinguish between ‘double hits’ and slings, a section was added under ‘Knotty Points’ for interpreting Law 10 (h).
This read: “It is a fault –
a. If the shuttlecock be held on the racket during the execution of a stroke; i.e., if it is be caught and slung instead of being distinctly hit; or
b. If the same portion of the shuttlecock be hit twice during the execution of a stroke.
BUT, it is not a fault –
c. If the base and feathers be struck simultaneously
d. If the shuttlecock be struck by any part of the wood of the racket.”
However, even these changes failed to rectify the situation and the confusion over genuine strokes persisted. An experimental law was passed for the 1932-33 season, appearing under ‘Knotty Points’:
“For the purposes of experiment during the 1932-33 season, Law 10 (h) shall be interpreted as follows: If the shuttle be hit twice in succession by the same player, or be hit by a player and his/her partner successively, or if the shuttle be slung.”
The experiment remained in force until the IBF was founded in 1934. The IBF reckoned that the period of the experiment had expired, and there was no reference in the Laws to the word ‘slung’.
In 1939, the code of Laws was altered at the request of the Canadian Badminton Association to make them appear more orderly. Law 10 (h) thus became Law 14 (h), with a set of ‘Interpretations’ added as an appendix.
The Second World War (1939-45) was a factor in causing a lot of confusion around this particular Law. With international badminton activity rendered impossible, different interpretations of the Laws began to take root in various countries. When play restarted after the War, it became obvious that players had become accustomed to their own version of the Laws.
In 1948, Denmark proposed that the following words be added to the law: “or be hit by the frame of the racket.” The Canadian Badminton Association put forward an amendment so that the Danish proposal would read: “or the base of the shuttle be hit by the frame or handle of the racket.” The proposal, contested by the Malayan delegate, was meant to disallow any stroke where the shuttle made contact with the frame of the racket.
There were 13 votes for and 8 against, but the proposal was not adopted due to a lack of two-thirds majority.
By 1949, the issue had become so important that it was the first item on the agenda at the Annual General Meeting. The proposal by Canada was adopted by 13 votes to 4.
The new law read: “It is a fault… If the shuttle be hit twice in succession by the same player, or be hit both by a player and his/her partner successively, or if the shuttle be not distinctly hit or the base of the shuttle be hit by the frame, shaft or handle of the racket.”
The Statute Book of 1949-50 commented on the change: “Henceforth, all strokes made off the frame of the racket will now count as faults and there can be no more clean wood strokes allowed. Several nations which were in favour of the change had already tried it out, but it will, nevertheless, be most interesting to see what will be the general reaction of players of all five continents, for the alteration represents a sweeping change.”
However, in 1951, New Zealand pushed a proposal to rescind the 1949 resolution, but could not find a seconder. The status quo continued for ten years. Eight years later, in 1959, the topic once again was raised, with the Malayans arguing that umpires in crowded halls would be unable to hear a wood shot, and that the advantages and disadvantages of the wood shots worked out evenly between the two opposing sides. The defeat of the resolution did not deter its proponents, for the proposal was raised again in 1960 and 1961. The last one, from Indonesia, was defeated by 41 votes to 26, but it was becoming apparent that more members were beginning to see their point of view.
By 1962, the proposal to rescind – fourth overall and third from Malaya – received 41 votes in favour and 31 against. Only lack of a two-thirds majority prevented it from becoming law. That happened the following year, in 1963, with the fifth successive proposal on the issue finding favour. Wood shots were legalised with a vote of 60 for and 30 against. Law 14 (h) reverted to its status before 1949.
The following year – 1964 – Canada proposed to change Law 14 (h) to permit any stroke except an intentional sling, but the proposal was defeated by 65 votes to 16. The Council then decided, after a vote of 67 to 17, to change the wording of the law to clarify the intention of the motion adopted a year earlier.
Law 14 (h) now read: “It is a fault… if the shuttle be hit twice in succession by the same player; be hit more than once (i.e. a double-hit), or be held on the racket (i.e. caught or slung) during the execution of the stroke; or if the shuttle be hit both by a player and his/her partner successively (vide Interpretation 2).
The Interpretation read: “It is a fault under Law 14 (h) if the shuttle be hit otherwise than by one impact with the racket. But it is not a fault (provided the stroke be otherwise legitimate) (a) if the base and feathers of the shuttle be struck with one distinct hit only by any part of the racket.”
How does the current law stand on this topic?
This is dealt under Law 13: (It shall be a fault if in play the shuttle) is caught and held on the racket and then slung during the execution of a stroke (13.3.7); is hit twice in succession by the same player. However, a shuttle hitting the head and the stringed area of the racket in one stroke shall not be a ‘fault’ (13.3.8).
1. The Story of the Wood-Shot Law (Pg 31-44) – IBF Handbook for 1961-62
2. Annals of the IBF (Pg 45-50) – IBF Handbook for 1965
Editorial Notes (Pg 15) – IBF Handbook for 1949-50
-- By Dev Sukumar