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Badminton Comes Out of Backyard and Takes Center Stage in Anaheim

The sport's Pan American office moves to Edison Field. In 2005, the World Championships will be held at the Pond.

September 16, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Anaheim is taking its title as a sports capital of the United States seriously. Apparently a World Series champion and a Stanley Cup runner-up didn't give the city enough credibility, so it has added gymnastics, lacrosse and now badminton to its sports resume.

Shuttlecock feathers were flying all over the Arrowhead Pond on Monday as international badminton officials announced they were bringing their sport to the 330,000 people of Anaheim -- and, they hope, beyond.

As of this week, the International Badminton Federation's Pan American office will be at Edison International Field. And in the summer of 2005, the World Badminton Championships will be played at the Pond.

Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle said people shouldn't take Monday's announcement lightly. Within the last month, Anaheim has played host to the World Gymnastics Championships at the Pond and gained a national lacrosse franchise.

"Some may have thought the hockey and baseball championship series were the pinnacle for us, but they were actually foundation events," Pringle said.

"Sports like gymnastics and badminton bring an even greater aura of respect and credibility to our community. Anaheim is an international tourist destination, and a sport like badminton is an international sport."

Pond General Manager Tim Ryan admits he barely knew what a shuttlecock was a few months ago. But his impression of badminton changed when he flew to England and watched the sport's elite athletes perform.

"Our job is to make sure this building is full with the highest caliber of content, whether that's sports or entertainment," Ryan said. "If we didn't pursue events like the badminton World Championships, we'd be selling ourselves and our community short."

More than 220 million people worldwide play badminton, but the sport has never really expanded beyond backyard barbecues in the United States. About 10 million play the sport in this country, but an American has never won a medal at the World Championships or the Olympic Games, which have included badminton since 1992.

"We have to create a winner here," said Paisan Rangsikitpho, vice president of USA Badminton. "It'd be great to have the U.S. win some medals, put this sport on TV and show the American public that badminton is a great sport to watch."

If there is a hotbed of badminton in this country, it's probably Orange County, where the U.S. Badminton Championships have been held since the mid-1990s. The Orange County Badminton Club in Orange -- the largest badminton-only facility in North, South or Central America and one of three badminton clubs in Southern California -- has 200 full-time members and more than 2,000 part-time members.

"Badminton is starting to grow here," said two-time Olympian Kevin Han of Orange. "Hopefully, the World Championships will be a trigger point to get a lot of younger kids to fall in love with the sport.

"There seems to be a misperception that badminton is not a real sport. By bringing the world's best here, we think people will see that our sport takes athleticism, power and strength."

Korn Dabbaransi, president of the International Badminton Federation and Thailand's deputy prime minister, said one of his organization's missions is to turn Americans on to badminton. In the next year, Dabbaransi said, the federation will organize a nationwide road show, featuring exhibition matches between the sport's elite.

"I was a college student here in 1964 and nobody played soccer," he said. "We believe badminton can become a national sport here, much like soccer has."

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