It was exactly two years ago that two famous on-court rivals — Poul-Erik Høyer and Dong Jiong — reunited outside the Tianhe Gymnasium in Guangzhou.
BWF President Høyer and Chinese Para badminton head coach Dong Jiong had been finalists at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic final, but it was on a different kind of court in Guangzhou that they met. The occasion was the launch of the new outdoor badminton game, AirBadminton, by BWF and HSBC.
In the two years since, the outdoor version of badminton has made its impact felt around the world – not only in the heartlands of badminton, but also in places the traditional game hadn’t taken root. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic since early 2020, the growth of AirBadminton has been impressive.
The AirBadminton story goes back seven years, when Nanyang Technological University in Singapore began work on the development of the AirShuttle with detailed inputs from BWF. The main challenge was for the AirShuttle to have higher resistance to wind, while being compatible with regular badminton rackets. Once the prototype was readied, AirBadminton took flight. Here are the milestones in its two-year journey:
BWF and HSBC jointly launched AirBadminton, and the new outdoor shuttlecock, the AirShuttle, at a global launch ceremony outside Tianhe Gymnasium in Guangzhou on 13 May 2019.
Attendees included former Chinese players Dong Jiong, Lu Lan, Yang Wei and Chen Jin.
Sunsets Kuopio festival, the largest outdoor sport and entertainment event in Finland, hosted the first AirBadminton tournament in early August 2019 in collaboration with Badminton Finland and Savon Sulka Club.
More than 60 players from all over Finland participated in the three-day tournament, which showcased 108 matches in all categories: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, mixed doubles, and the new triples format.
In October 2019, Dubai Sports Council hosted the first AirBadminton tournament in the region as part of the Dubai International Challenge 2019.
The same month, Badminton Association of Malaysia conducted an AirBadminton exhibition in conjunction with Malaysia’s National Sports Month.
AirBadminton made its debut in Singapore at the Badminton Festival on 23 November 2019. Several national intermediate squad players took part in friendly matches.
BWF and HSBC jointly launched the AirBadminton Community Project at the Tianhe Gymnasium in Guangzhou on 11 December 2019 as part of their community outreach programme. The first set of planned permanent AirBadminton courts was unveiled at a special exhibition in conjunction with the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals.
BWF also partnered with Guangzhou Sports Bureau to stage its first AirBadminton Ambassador Campaign, where 50 local players were trained by BWF staff on the rules of the game during a one-day workshop. The participants were then recognised as Certified AirBadminton Ambassadors.
Mass Production of AirShuttle
BWF had reached out to several production companies to confirm the manufacturing process of the AirShuttle and continue the development of the product to further improve the stability, durability and performance. Mass production of the AirShuttle had started within the first year of the launch.
AirBadminton made an appearance at the Beach Sports Week organised by Dubai Sports Council at the famous Kite Beach in Dubai in early August 2020.
The AirBadminton Tournament was open to all badminton players in the UAE. Due to COVID-19 regulations, entry was limited. A total of 16 women and 40 men participated in five events – men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
AirBadminton debuted at the Guangzhou Sports Festival and National Fitness Day staged on 8 August 2020. The AirBadminton activation was designed to showcase and facilitate a higher level of participation among the local badminton community in Guangzhou.
Around 15 of the 50 Certified AirBadminton Ambassadors instructed badminton fans on the rules of the game and court layout at the event.
After making an impact at several places around the world, AirBadminton’s arrival in Africa happened with a friendly team relay competition at the University of Mauritius on 15 December 2020.
The event, organised by Badminton Confederation of Africa (BCA) in collaboration with Mauritius Badminton Association (MBA) and the University of Mauritius, had six teams, which had several players from the national squad, both men and women.
A day earlier, the BCA had organised an AirBadminton Umpires Course attended by 25 national umpires.
Tunisia welcomed AirBadminton with a workshop and competition at a picturesque locale in Tozeur city on 17 March 2021.
The launch and competition, which saw 18 male and six female players take part, was at Ong El Jamel, famous as the filming location of Star Wars. The location was chosen as it provided a stunning backdrop, besides being ideal for AirBadminton.
The workshop and competition were attended by Tozeur city and tourism officials, media, and local sports officials. The competition was held for men’s and women’s doubles and triples in the 3×11 scoring format.
Launch in Pan Am Region
In April 2021, the Badminton Pan American Confederation, in collaboration with Guatemala Badminton Association, ran an official AirBadminton exhibition alongside the Pan Am Championships with the participation of Guatemala’s junior national team and Para badminton and Special Olympics athletes from Guatemala.
It was a great showcase of badminton bringing people together as an inclusive sport and increasing awareness of the new outdoor game in the country.
Over 130 countries are now involved in running AirBadminton activities, and over 900,000 AirShuttles have been distributed.
With the pandemic affecting indoor activity in several countries, AirBadminton is seen as an ideal outdoor sport. It has indeed come a long way in two years!