Badminton in Dubai: a winning pair

So you think you know badminton? Think again. Vision explores the racquet sport shedding its genteel image and the partnership introducing this exhilarating sport to Dubai

For a game first played in the 1880s, badminton has aged well. Once the genteel sport of aristocratic visitors to the Duke of Beaufort’s Badminton home in Gloucestershire, UK, the modern sport’s players – or shuttlers – are masters of speed, agility and power.

Badminton is the fastest racquet sport in the world. Players hit the shuttlecock, the cone-shaped projectile weighing just a few grams, over a 1.5m high net at speeds of up to 200mph (320 km/h).

“Badminton is a very physical sport, you need a lot of energy,” says Pi Hongyan, a former women’s singles world number two. “You develop a lot of skills, like flexibility, explosive [bursts of energy], endurance and tactical skills.”

It is also widely called the second most popular participation sport in the world, after football. Some 1.1 billion people watched the game’s Olympic debut in 1992 and its appeal is starting to break out of the game’s traditional European and Asian markets.

To drive its take up, the sport’s international governing body – the Badminton World Federation (BWF) – paired up with Dubai in April in a four-year partnership to show just how fun, sociable and a good workout badminton can be.

Badminton in Dubai: a winning pair
Pi Hongyan, a former women’s singles world number two, says that badminton requires skills like flexibility, explosive bursts of energy, and endurance

“Anyone who plays badminton will enjoy it,” says PV Sindhu, women’s number 10 in the world, whose display along with five other top badminton players impressed the crowd at the launch of Shuttle Time Dubai on July 1st. “It’s a very good sport for keeping fit and healthy.”

BWF’s grassroots programme, Shuttle Time Dubai, aims to broaden badminton’s appeal and raise its profile in the emirate by working with 40 schools on how to teach and engage youth in the sport. Through techniques such as using balloons – instead of shuttlecocks – to practise hand-eye coordination, the programme aims to reach more than 3,000 students starting from eight years old – the same age Sindhu and Pi started badminton.

To kick-off the campaign, until the end of August UAE residents can play badminton for free at one of six badminton courts at Dubai Sports World (DSW), the largest indoor summer sports event in the Middle East.

“The facilities here [at DSW] are really fantastic,” notes Sindhu. “It’s a real inspiration for many of the youngsters.”

I love badminton,” says Shahana, 17, who attends Dubai Schools Badminton Academy summer camp at DSW. “I started playing because my father and brother played and I wanted to stay fit. More people should definitely get involved.”

Some 1.1 billion people watched the game’s Olympic debut in 1992 and its appeal is starting to break out of the game’s traditional European and Asian markets

The emirate will also host the finals of the global badminton competition for the first time in the Middle East on 17-21 December. The BWF Destination Dubai World Superseries Finals will see the top eight singles players and doubles pairs in the world battle it out for the top spot.

“The Superseries Finals are the biggest event in badminton,” enthuses Pi. “When kids and adults in Dubai see high-level badminton, I hope they will be inspired to play.”

“One day we’ll see a Dubai badminton star.”