Thursday, August 21, 2008

After 2003 scare badminton survived Bird Flu

Badminton is one of the most popular sports in China often called the second national sport behind ping pong or table tennis. Matches can see attendance soar over 25,000 with millions more taking play in by television.

However, in 2003 China almost lost badminton forever. This is the year when the country of 1.3 billion experienced a severe outbreak of avian influenza or bird flu.

As many may know badminton uses a birdie instead of a ball to hit back and forth between double or single players. In China the birdie is a small live bird that is restrained with rubber bands and then capped with a small, usually red "helmet."After the match the bird is tagged and released because no bird can ever be used twice for badminton.

The most popular bird to use in badminton are barn swallows, called zeng swallows in China. These small birds were very difficult to be found in 2003.

"They[zeng swallows] were all dieing. And with them the sport of badminton. The nation was in a crisis and we had to do something," said Ging Huan, president of the PROB(People's Republic of Badminton, through an interpreter.

Bird flu ravaged China's bird population to where the country's national team began using old, dented ping pong balls.

"It just wasn't the same as a birdie. They're much lighter. And the national ping pong team was always laughing at us," explained Hing Zen, a player on the badminton national team.

To save the sport the government called for "collection and protection" of the zeng swallows by the the general public. Citizens were expected to capture the birds and house them until a government official could collect them.

"It was very inspiring. The country pulled together to save badminton and that is why it still exists as a sport in China today," said Huan. "Oh...and we saved a buncha birds in the process."

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