The Olympic Journey

The brief sketch given below outlines badminton’s attempts to become an Olympic sport; the challenges it faced; its debut as an Olympic sport in Barcelona 1992, and subsequent developments.


It was only in the mid-1960s that efforts were made to include badminton on the Olympic programme. When badminton was made a demonstration sport at the Munich Olympics in 1972, there was expectation all round that the Olympic stage was not too far off.  The demonstration event was held on 4 September on two courts in a volleyball hall. Over 3000 spectators enjoyed the action on the single day it was played. The use of electronic scoreboards was a pointer of things to come.

Twenty-five players from 11 member associations participated; Indonesia’s Rudy Hartono and Japan’s Noriko Nakayama (née Takagi) won the singles titles, while Ade Chandra/ Christian Hadinata (Indonesia – Men’s Doubles) and Derek Talbot/Gillian Gilks (England) won the Mixed Doubles. There was no Women’s Doubles.

From then on, however, progress stalled as a sensitive political issue rose to the forefront. A parallel body called World Badminton Federation was formed on 24 February 1978; 13 Asian and six African associations became part of the breakaway group. The split of the IBF derailed its ambitions for badminton in the Olympics.

Efforts at rapprochement were made from both sides. On 26 May 1981 a ‘Deed of Unification’ was signed in Tokyo by IBF and WBF.

The reunification of the world body reignited its Olympic hopes.  IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch attended the IBF World Championships in 1983; the event produced some exhilarating displays of badminton and so impressed Samaranch that he was convinced badminton had a place in the Olympic programme.

The long-sought moment came at 5:45 pm on 5 June 1985 at the 90th IOC Session. Badminton was unanimously included for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics; also, it would be played as an exhibition sport in the Seoul Olympic Games of 1988. The IOC flag was presented to the IBF at the World Championships in Calgary.

Seoul 1988 – Exhibition Sport

Thirty players from eight member associations made the trip to Seoul. The event was held in the Seoul National University Gymnasium, venue for table tennis, and was attended by a full house of 5000 people all through. The hosts had a good haul with three gold medals, courtesy Hwang Hye Young (Women’s Singles), Kim Yun Ja/Chung So Young (Women’s Doubles) and Park Joo Bong/Chung Myung Hee (Mixed Doubles). China won the other two through Yang Yang (Men’s Singles) and Li Yongbo/Tian Bingyi (Men’s Doubles).

(L-R) Malaysia's Punch Gunalan, Jalani Sidek, Elyas Omar and Razif Sidek - Barcelona 1992

Barcelona 1992 – Debut as an Olympic sport

10 am on 28 July 1992 was when the long-cherished dream of millions of badminton fans finally materialised. Foo Kok Keong of Malaysia struck the first shuttlecock in Olympic badminton history, in the brand-new Pavella de la Mar Bella. Barcelona saw 178 players from 37 countries take part. The on-court action justified all the hard work that had gone into bringing badminton to the Olympics. An early-round Women’s Doubles match – between Gill Clark/Julie Bradbury (England) and Rosiana Tendean/Erma Sulistianingsih (Indonesia) was so compelling that TV viewership reportedly was 150 million.

Over the next few days, all four categories – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles, Men’s Doubles and Women’s Doubles – produced matches of the highest class. That Indonesian off-court couple Allan Budi Kusuma and Susi Susanti won the singles medals proved a golden start for badminton, giving it a picture-perfect moment for decades to come. Indonesia’s wait for an Olympic gold medal had ended.

Korea grabbed the other two gold medals, through Park Joo Bong/Kim Moon Soo (Men’s Doubles) and Hwang Hye Young/Chung So Young. Badminton had come of age in its very first Olympics.

There was no Mixed Doubles event in the Barcelona Olympics. Losing semi-finalists were given bronze medals.

Subsequent Developments

Over the course of the next five Olympics – Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and London (2012) – badminton’s impact at the Olympics only got stronger, with viewership consistently breaking records. Meanwhile, in 2005, IBF was renamed BWF (Badminton World Federation).

From Atlanta 1996 onwards, Mixed Doubles was introduced – making badminton one of the few sports in which men and women shared the field of play. Another major change was the play-off for bronze.

London 2012 saw the introduction of group competition followed by knock-out. The same format will be followed for Rio 2016, but there will be a draw after the group stage to prevent players from anticipating their opponents in the knock-out stage.

Rio will provide a grand stage for the sport in South America. There is little doubt that badminton’s evolution over the last two decades has been intertwined with the Olympics; Rio will provide another fillip to its onward journey as an inclusive, global sport.


Badminton was included in the Olympic programme for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. However, in 1972 badminton had been played as a demonstration sport at the Munich Games. In 1988 badminton was played as an exhibition sport in the Seoul Games.

In Barcelona, badminton had only four events: Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles, Men’s Doubles and Women’s Doubles. From 1996 (Atlanta) onwards, Mixed Doubles was added. These five events have remained at all Olympics since then.

At the first five Olympics (1992-2008), the format consisted of a knockout draw. However, in London 2012, the format had a group stage followed by knock-out. Men’s Singles had 40 entries (players) divided into 16 groups; each group had between 2 and 3 players. The winners of the group entered the round-of-16 (pre-quarterfinals).

Women’s Singles had 46 entries divided into 16 groups. The three doubles disciplines had 16 entries divided into four groups equally. The top two pairs from each group entered the quarter-finals. While the format will remain the same for the 2016 Rio Olympics, there will be a draw after the group stage to prevent players from anticipating their opponents in the knock-out stage.

Players qualify based on their performances during the 52-week qualifying period from 4 May 2015 to 1 May 2016.

The World Ranking lists of 5 May 2016 will be used to allocate the athletes’ quota places in all five categories. Each list will be based on points accumulated during the qualifying period.

The total number of players allocated to badminton cannot exceed 172. The exact number of singles and doubles players between Olympics may vary as some players qualify for more than one event. A player cannot play in more than two events at a particular Olympics.

The initial number of athletes in each singles event is 38 (before reallocation of quota places to singles for athletes participating in both singles and doubles), while in each doubles event it is 32 (16 pairs).

In singles, the BWF World Ranking lists of 5 May 2016 will be used to allocate 34 individual quota places for men and 34 individual quota places for women to the highest ranked athletes, respecting the maximum quota allocation per NOC per event, and including at least one athlete from each of the five BWF Continental Confederations.