Badminton: World body to allow synthetic shuttles from 2021, Singapore's Loh Kean Yew says move towards sustainability is good

In a photo taken on Dec 9, 2019, Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew (above) faces off against Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia during the SEA Games Men’s Badminton singles finals held in Manila.
In a photo taken on Dec 9, 2019, Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew (above) faces off against Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia during the SEA Games Men’s Badminton singles finals held in Manila.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The Badminton World Federation (BWF) on Monday (Jan 20) announced that synthetic feather shuttlecocks would be allowed for its international tournaments from next year, in "an effort to increase sustainability within the sport".

Synthetic feather shuttles, it said, had proven more durable and economical compared to traditional naturally feathered shuttles when they were tested during three BWF tournaments in 2018. BWF secretary general Thomas Lund said elite shuttlers were able to adjust to the "slight variances".

"During the various tests, it was discovered that the synthetic feather shuttle could reduce shuttlecock usage up to 25 per cent, providing a significant environmental and economic edge for badminton going forward," the BWF said in a statement. It also insisted that the synthetic shuttles provided "a very similar flight and performance" as naturally feathered ones.

Lund added: "The vision is to ensure the long-term sustainability of badminton and become less dependent on using natural feathers for shuttlecocks."

Naturally feathered shuttlecocks are made of 16 feathers plucked from the left wings of a live goose or duck, a method which has been deemed cruel by animal rights activists in recent years. The curvature of the wing feathers allows the shuttle to spin and fly more consistently, according to Satoshi Yuza, a promotion manager at Yonex, in a 2016 article in the New York Times.

Singapore's top male shuttler Loh Kean Yew told The Straits Times that he was looking forward to testing the new innovation for the first time. He noted that consistency would be key in the implementation of the new synthetic feather shuttlecocks.

The world No. 39 said: "It is good that the BWF is doing more to make badminton more sustainable. We have not tried the new shuttlecocks yet, but I think it will take some time for players to get used to them."

Compatriot and world No. 26 Yeo Jia Min added: "It's good they are trying to make shuttlecocks sustainable because they are usually easily spoiled and players change them many times a day. The synthetic feather shuttlecocks will definitely help to reduce the environmental effects of using natural feathers."

Traditionally, feathered shuttlecocks are made with bird feathers and offer higher aerodynamic lift, while synthetic ones consist of plastic or nylon and are more durable.

Malaysian legend and three-time Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong Wei had tried the synthetic shuttlecocks in 2017.

The 37-year-old, who retired last year, said then: "It was not consistent then. Sometimes, it felt like the traditional shuttle but at times, it was not. I wasn't comfortable.

"But I'm open to the idea of using the synthetic ones if it's constantly experimented with and tested thoroughly. The players should not feel the difference that much."

 

The BWF worked with Japanese equipment and apparel manufacturer Yonex, and said that it is now up to various tournament hosts to decide whether to use the new product. But it expects that it would take a number of years before synthetic shuttles are widely adopted.