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Badminton was invented long ago; its origins date back at least two thousand years to the game of battledore and shuttlecock played in ancient Greece, India and China. A surprisingly long history for one of the Olympics newest sports! Badminton took its name from Badminton House in Gloucestershire, the home of the Duke of Beaufort, where the sport was played in the last century. By coincidence, Gloucestershire is now the base for the International Badminton Federation.

The IBF was founded in 1934 with nine members - Canada, Denmark, England, France, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. The USA joined four years later. Membership grew steadily over the following years with a surge in new members after badminton's Olympic debut at Barcelona. As the sport's development program grows, the current 130 members is expected to increase further.

The first major IBF tournament was the Thomas Cup (world men's team championships) in 1948. Since then, the number of world events has increased to seven, with the addition of the Uber Cup (ladies' team), World Championships, Sudirman Cup (mixed team), World Juniors, World Grand Prix Finals and the World Cup. The World Cup invitational event started in 1981 and is organized by the International Management Group (IMG). The World Cup series is due to end in 1997 and the IBF is considering organizing exhibition matches featuring the world's top players to replace the World Cup.

IBF's relationship with IMG started with the organization of the World Cup but has developed to include the sale of commercial and television rights at many IBF events. In these days of mass communications, the importance of television to a world sport is self-evident. Television brings the action, the excitement, the explosive power of badminton into homes around the world. It pulls in the crowd to see the action live; it pulls in the big guys in the sponsorship league.

For the recent Thomas & Uber Cups in Hong Kong (16-26 May), the sale of commercial and television rights was a multi-million dollar contract. And it's not just in Asia. In Europe, too, there's a growing number of companies bidding for rights. Television companies world-wide are already buying exclusive rights to the 1997 World Championships, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland.

A watershed in badminton's growth was the $20 million tripartite contract in 1994 for sponsorship of the World Grand Prix Finals. Under the terms of the deal between the IBF, IMG and STAR TV, STAR injects the monies into the promotion and development of badminton. In return STAR gains total exclusivity for the exploitation of the commercial and television rights to the WGP Finals. "The deal was good for both main parties", said David Shaw, IBF's Executive Director, who was brought into the organization with a brief to grow the sport. "We needed a strong partner in television, and the broadcaster had identified badminton as a vehicle which would attract audiences across Asia to its Prime Sports Channel".

The next phase in the rise and rise of international badminton has been to retake the USA. The US was an early member of the IBF and initially one of the most successful. When the Uber Cup was introduced in 1956, Americans won the first three events. But then interest died out.

Badminton is a familiar and well-liked sport in the US, but predominantly is a fun game in the back yard or on the beach. We know that once Americans see the other badminton - international badminton, the world's fastest racket sport - they will want more. The Atlanta Olympics started to raise the sport's profile in the US. The event was a sell-out and became one of the "must-see" sports. Ex-President Jimmy Carter, Chelsea Clinton, Princess Anne and Paul Newman were among the celebrities who came to watch. David Broder of the Washington Post also came. After seeing the men's doubles finals, he reported: "seeing one of the supreme athletic spectacles of my life".

1996 was a landmark in American badminton. It's not only the Atlanta Olympic Games that started to generate massive interest in the American market. In December 1995 the IBF introduced a brand new tournament in California, the Hong Ta Shan Cup; a men's invitational event with top players and big prize money. This year there are plans to add a women's event and to increase the prize money still further - a real Christmas present for players and American spectators. The Hongtashan Group has gone on to sponsor the US Open, increasing the prize money to $200,000 . This makes the event the most valuable World Grand Prix event in the series and gives it six-star status.

The rate of change is increasing. Badminton's debut as an Olympic sport has clearly boosted interest internationally. The STAR TV deal has increased the sport's coverage. Sponsors and television companies are increasingly attracted to a sport which gives them access to the Asian economies. And, spectators are increasingly attracted to the "enthralling mix of angles, tactics, reaction, touch and fitness that would exhaust a squash champion.

Watch out! The world's fastest racket sport is coming. Badminton is coming!

This history obtained from the International Badminton Federation