Destination Dubai: Denmark’s badminton love affair

The BWF World Superseries heads to Europe in October, starting with the YONEX Denmark Open. For its size, the Scandinavian country has enjoyed its fair share of success in the sport – Gruffudd Owen explains why

Sitting on the island of Funen some 170 kilometres south-west of Copenhagen is Odense, a modestly-sized Danish city best known as the birthplace of the eminent fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen.

Since 2007, it has also been the home of the YONEX Denmark Open – the country’s leading badminton competition and one of the dozen Badminton World Federation (BWF) Superseries events that lead up to the season-ending Finals in Dubai.

That the tournament is awarded such a level of prestige reflects Denmark’s proud tradition in the sport – a tradition that has its origins in the early 20th century or, specifically, the visit of an Irish army major to the seaport town of Esbjerg in 1928.

Though it was already being played as a leisurely garden activity across Denmark prior to this period, it was Major J.D.M McCallum, captain of an all-Irish travelling badminton team called ‘the Strollers’, who introduced the sporting aspect of the game to the country.

It did not take long for it to gain widespread popularity and, in 1930, the Badminton Association of Denmark was born.

The sport has maintained a healthy following in Denmark ever since, with around 550 active badminton clubs competing in leagues from junior to senior level.

Add to this an effective education framework that teaches schoolchildren the basics from a young age, as well as a large volunteer base – Denmark is known for the emphasis it places on volunteerism, with 35 per cent of its 16-and-over population engaging in such work every year – and it is of little surprise that the country has emerged as one of the major players in world badminton, despite its relatively small population size.

As recently as May, it became the first European nation in history to lift the famous Thomas Cup; it has gained at least one medal at every Olympics since badminton was first introduced to the Games, except for the 2008 edition in Beijing; and until Carolina Marin’s success for Spain in Rio, it was the only country in Europe that had ever won an Olympic gold medal in the sport.

A whole book could be dedicated to its long list of countrymen and women who have made their mark on the game throughout the years.

On the men’s side there’s the great Morten “Mr. Badminton” Frost, as well as former world no.1 Peter Gade and the current BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer, all of whom won numerous major titles throughout their careers.

Tine Baun, Lene Køppen and Camilla Martin were also highly successful in the women’s game, with the latter pair winning both the World and All-England singles titles in their playing days.

Meanwhile in today’s game, the promising Viktor Axelsen and Jan Ø. Jorgensen occupy the fourth and fifth spots in the men’s rankings respectively.

And as the world’s leading players head to Odense this month, these two shuttlers will be hoping to create their own sporting fairy tales representing a country whose love affair with badminton shows no signs of abating.   

The YONEX Denmark Open takes place from 18-23 October at the Odense Sports Park.