Badminton is one of few sports to put women and men on the same court to compete directly against one another in the mixed doubles category. Many international tournaments, as well as the Olympic games, feature mixed doubles, which pit men and women against each other. Though there has yet to be a mixed singles category in any major event, and some say there never will be, the Badminton World Federation is still taking steps to ensure women are properly represented. BWF is using its platform to illustrate the empowerment of women through athletics and athletic leadership roles. And why shouldn’t it? Women have been playing badminton for hundreds of years. Yes, I said hundreds. Check out Jean Simeon Chardin’s 1737 painting “Girl with a Raquet.” Keep your eyes peeled for the shuttlecock!
Women in Badminton – Overcoming the Gender Equality Racket
Gender equity has been an ideal in the spotlight for several years both in the workplace and on the playing fields of sports categories worldwide. Major players in the athletic arena have been taking a public stand for equal pay and treatment of female athletes when compared to their male counterparts.
Who is leading the charge?
None may have done so more loudly than the US Women’s Soccer team. The New York Post covered the story in March of 2019, as the USWNT sued their own employer, the United States Soccer Federation, for equal pay and treatment. (See the full court filing here.) More than a full year before this lawsuit, the International Olympic Committee endorsed a call to action regarding females in sports leadership roles, launching the IOC Gender Equality Review Project. The project intends to review the current status of gender equity and create solutions to remedy areas of weakness.
But if the IOC was ahead of the Women’s Soccer Team in their action to level the playing field for women, then Badminton World Federation must have been lightyears ahead of its time. The BWF set an organizational goal back in 2011 to increase the amount of female representation in leadership positions on their council. The BWF’s creation of a Gender Equity Commission which seeks solutions for progress towards the advancement of women both on the playing field and off of it illustrates their commitment to closing any gaps between men and women in badminton. BWF has always stressed the importance of equal prize money in the competition. They’ve also instituted specific grants geared towards encouraging worldwide participation of women in Para badminton.
Creating initiatives to encourage women to play badminton not only helps with the pitfalls of gender equity in badminton competition, but also raises a more general awareness for the sport as a whole. Drawing attention to badminton is good for men and women alike, especially as badminton struggles in some countries with an image problem. It’s occasionally considered a second class sport, especially in America. Creating conduits for athletes (of any gender) to compete is one way to combat this poor stigma.
The Best of the Best in Women’s Badminton
International Women in Competition
In a recent article in Forbes Magazine, PV Sindhu, an elite badminton player from India was tied at 13th on a list of the most well paid female athletes in the world. She’s earned over $5.5 million, and most of that money comes through endorsements with major companies such as Gatorade and Panasonic. It’s been said that she’s the highest-paid female athlete in the world outside of the game of tennis. In a recent interview with World is One News, Sindhu spoke of the intense competition among women in badminton internationally. She said that “since the 2016 games, the level of competition has improved.” She calls this increased level of competition “essential for the growth of women’s badminton.”
There are three noteworthy competitors ranked by the BWF in women’s singles right now. Taking the lead is Taiwanese player Tai Tzu Ying. She comes in at number one with 397 career wins and has taken home over $1.4 million in prize money. Chen Yu Fei of China comes in close behind at number two in the standings, and Akane Yamaguchi of Japan is currently ranked third. These women have beaten tough competition to hold positions so high on the list.
In the women’s doubles category, Chinese pair Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan take the lead as a formidable set of opponents in first-place. Close behind them are Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota of Japan dominating the second-place spot. Also representing Japan in the third-place ranking are doubles competitors Maya Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara. These women trained relentlessly. They outplayed other highly talented pairs to command leading positions internationally.
American Women in Competition
There are fierce female competitors dominating courts in America as well. The American front runner in women’s singles badminton, according to BWF rankings right now is Beiwen Zhang of Nevada. Born in China, Beiwen now plays for Team USA. First in the United States, and fifteenth in the world, Beiwen Zhang has 290 career wins. Beiwen was hoping to lead American women into badminton glory in the 2020 Summer Olympics until the event was abruptly sidelined by the recent Coronavirus pandemic.
American women are bringing talent to the women’s doubles category too. Players Ariel and Sydney Lee are sisters from California. They are ranked in the top one hundred women’s double pairs by BWF. Both women have been training in badminton for over 12 years. Emily Kan and Isabel Zhong are another strong pair representing America in the ranks of women’s doubles.
What does the future hold for women in badminton?
Women in badminton in many European and Asian countries continue to make names for themselves, as well as hefty paychecks. Prize money isn’t the only thing bringing them fame. Endorsements are putting their face and the sport in the public eye.
Only time will tell what the future holds for aspiring female badminton players in the United States. While the recognition and pay on the level Sindhu has reached isn’t currently happening in America, players like Beiwen Zhang could be a catalyst for change. Her talent and tenacity make fans in America hopeful both for women in badminton and for the game’s status as a whole.