Watch the birdie! Badminton players balk at soaring shuttlecocks prices

Wan Lixin
Shuttlecocks made with authentic goose or duck feathers are becoming so costly that some players are leaving the sport. Will synthetic versions save the day?
Wan Lixin
Watch the birdie! Badminton players balk at soaring shuttlecocks prices

The authentic duck and goose feathers used in making premium shuttlecocks are becoming more costly.

In the sizzling summer heat, there's a chill permeating the sport of badminton. The cost of shuttlecocks keeps soaring.

Beginning this month, major sports equipment firms like Japan's Yonex and Victor from China's Taiwan have announced further price updates, with average increases of more than 30 percent in just six months.

Take for example the Yonex's high-end Aerosensa 05 shuttlecock. The price is going up from 210 yuan (US$29) for a tube of 12 shuttlecocks to 225 yuan, and then to 275 yuan.

Ru Feng, who started playing badminton four years ago, said he prefers the Victor Gold No. 3 shuttlecock, though he is finding rising prices prohibitive. The price of one Victor tube has jumped from 71.1 yuan last November to 132 yuan this July.

"As a non-durable item, I need to use shuttlecocks every day," said Ru, figuring that the two hours a day he practices will cost him three shuttlecocks plus the 24 yuan charge for the court – or about 48 yuan a day – in addition to uniform and racquet costs.

Ru's frustration is shared by Li Yilin, another player. With the price of his favorite shuttlecocks going up from 99 yuan in early 2022 to 140 yuan today, he said he was forced to buy a cheaper brand. Still, he's puzzled what accounts for a 30 percent price hike in just six months.

Watch the birdie! Badminton players balk at soaring shuttlecocks prices

A 2023 file photo shows workers inspecting semi-finished shuttlecocks at a production site in Guizhou Province.

Shuttlecock makers blame the cost of raw materials, specifically the duck or goose feathers used in the best brands.

But, ultimately, some of the blame goes to pigs.

One shuttlecock maker, Li Yang, from Anhui Province, explained that farmers can get better prices from raising pigs for the pork market than raising ducks or geese.

Some experts believe the situation is exacerbated by the reproductive cycle of ducks and geese.

"Most geese stop laying eggs and start molting from March to May," said Yang Yunzhou, a researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Agriculture. The lack of egg supplies results in fewer goslings, contributing eventually to a seasonal scarcity of geese.

A small feather-processing plant in Anhui Province said it is running out of stock and had stopped production until prices stabilize.

Li also explained that higher prices might lead to speculation, with some farmers reluctant to part with their ducks and geese, or with producers and retailers hoarding shuttlecocks to send prices spiraling higher.

The inclusion of badminton as a part of school sports regimes has certainly driven higher demand for the feathers.

The soaring prices left some netizens at a crossroads.

"Notwithstanding my monthly salary of 20,000 yuan, I'm not sure I can afford to continue to play badminton," said Li Yilin.

All that raises the question: Are authentic poultry feathers necessary in the manufacture of shuttlecocks?

The Badminton World Federation has approved the use of synthetic feather shuttlecocks at its sanctioned international tournaments since 2021. Many are hoping that these synthetic versions will eventually be a universally accepted game changer.

However, many players insist that authentic feathers make the best shuttlecocks, even though synthetic versions are more durable and can better withstand temperature and humidity.

(The article is adapted from an article published on July 7 in Jiefang Daily.)

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