rules, scoring system and equipment

Elwanda Tulloch

Find out more about the racket sport which has featured at the Summer Olympics since 1992. Badminton is set to be one of the big draws at Tokyo 2020 with two-time defending world champion Kento Momota hoping to win Japan’s second Olympic title in the sport. Chen Long and […]


Find out more about the racket sport which has featured at the Summer Olympics since 1992.

Badminton is set to be one of the big draws at Tokyo 2020 with two-time defending world champion Kento Momota hoping to win Japan’s second Olympic title in the sport.

Chen Long and Carolina Marin will defend their singles titles in Japan with golds also up for grabs in men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.

While badminton is most popular in Asia, it also attracts great interest in Europe with players from Denmark among those regularly challenging for top honours.

Want to learn more about badminton? Here’s a look at the rules and equipment you need to play, plus a brief history of the sport at the Olympic Games.

The basic rules of badminton

As outlined by the Badminton World Federation (BWF), here is a simplified rundown of the rules of badminton.

Badminton scoring system

All singles and doubles matches are the best-of-three games. The first side to 21 points wins a game.

A point is scored on every serve and awarded to whichever side wins the rally. The winning side gets the next serve.

If the score is 20-20, a side must win by two clear points to win the game. If it reaches 29-29, the first to get their 30th point wins.

Winning a point

A point is won if the birdie (shuttlecock) hits the ground in the opponent’s half of the court, including the lines.

A point can therefore be conceded if a shot goes outside the court boundaries, if the birdie hits the net or passes through/under it, or if a player strikes the birdie twice with their racket.

Players must wait for the birdie to cross the net before playing a shot, and while you can follow through over it, touching the net with your body or racket results in a point being conceded.

How to serve in badminton

The birdie must be hit below waist height, with players serving diagonally into their opponent’s service box. Both players must remain stationary until the serve is made.

In singles, the server starts from the right service court, and will serve from that side every time they have an even amount of points. A player serves from the left every time they have an odd amount of points.

Each player will retain serve for as long as they keep winning points.

In doubles, the server will start on the right-hand side and keep serving, while alternating sides with their team-mate, so long as they keep winning points.

If the receiving side takes the point, they assume serve. Going forward, the player who did not initially serve for each team will only assume the service once their side has won a point as the receiving side.

Click here to see BWF’s diagram regarding serving scenarios in doubles

What is a badminton court’s dimensions?

In singles, a badminton court is 13.41m (44ft) long and 5.18m (17ft) wide. The width extends to 6.1m (20ft) in doubles.

The net is 1.55m (5ft 1in) high at the ends and 1.52m high (5ft) where it dips in the middle.

A serve must pass the short service line, which is 1.98m (6.5ft) from the net.

Beyond the short service line, there is a line which runs down the middle to split the left and right service courts. There is also a doubles service line 0.76m (2.5ft) in from the baseline.

That means each service court (four in total) is 3.96m (13ft) long and 2.59m (8.5ft) wide.

Action on badminton courts during the 2018 Japan Open
Action on badminton courts during the 2018 Japan OpenAction on badminton courts during the 2018 Japan Open

The badminton birdie (shuttlecock)

The birdie, also referred to as the shuttlecock, is badminton’s unique ‘ball’.

The cone-shaped projectile is formed using feathers or a synthetic material which are attached to a cork or rubber base.

The birdie’s shape means it will always fly cork-first once struck, and remain so until hit again.

Made up of 16 feathers, the birdie is between 62-70mm long and weigh between 4.74 and 5.5g. The tip of the feathers should create a circle with a diameter from 58-62mm, with the cork/rubber base 25-28mm in diameter and rounded at the bottom.

Badminton at the Olympics

A regular fixture since the Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics, badminton now has five disciplines at the Games after mixed doubles was introduced at Atlanta 1996.

Indonesia claimed both singles golds on badminton’s Olympic debut courtesy of Alan Budikusuma and Susi Susanti, with Republic of Korea taking the two doubles titles on offer.

China has since emerged as the sport’s dominant force with a total of 18 gold, eight silver and 15 bronze medals ahead of Tokyo 2020.

Korea is second with seven gold, six silver and six bronze medals, with Indonesia third on six gold, seven silver and six bronze medals.

Denmark, Japan and Spain have one gold apiece with India looking to women’s world champion and Rio 2016 silver medallist PV Sindhu to earn her nation’s first badminton Olympic title.

Ten players have won two Olympic gold medals but just two of them have a brace of singles titles – 2004 and 2008 women’s champion Zhang Ning and Lin Dan who retained his men’s crown at London 2012 by repeating his Beijing 2008 triumph over Lee Chong Wei.

Gao Ling is badminton’s only four-time Olympic medallist thanks to two mixed doubles golds in 2000 and 2004, and bronze and silver in women’s doubles at those Games.

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