LONDON – Olympic badminton authorities booted eight players out of the games' tournament for attempting to throw matches, but the real culprits are the officials who organized the event.
Two South Korean pairs, a Chinese and an Indonesian team will be stripped of their place in the quarterfinals unless an appeal against the punishment is granted. All four teams were determined to have tried to lose their final matches in the women's doubles group stage in order to secure a more favorable draw in the knockout round.
While the matches led to ugly scenes of players deliberately serving into the net while the Wembley Arena crowd booed and jeered, it is the organizers of this event who are responsible for allowing the tanking to happen in the first place. By implementing a controversial group system instead of a single-elimination format as used previously, Games chiefs left themselves open to the kind of nightmare that transpired late Tuesday.
When highly rated Chinese team Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei surprisingly finished second in their group, it suddenly became more beneficial for group opponents Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China and Kim Ha-na and Jung Kyung-eun of South Korea to lose and avoid meeting them. After Wang and Yu capitulated amid a series of embarrassing mistakes, they then became the newest opponent to avoid. Therefore, Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung of South Korea and Meiliana Juahari and Greysia Polii of Indonesia then needed to lose to avoid them, leading to another farcical match of little effort.
The pairings could all afford to lose, having guaranteed a qualifying spot by winning their first two group matches.
The disqualification of the teams has created a logistical nightmare. As of Wednesday it was still being decided whether to simply have the four remaining teams in the competition play the semifinals and cancel the quarterfinals session, or to promote teams that had already been knocked out to take their place.
In the badminton community, there has been widespread fury at an incident that has thoroughly besmirched the sport. "It was sickening, disgusting," said retired British badminton great Gail Emms, who won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. "They should be banned."
Chinese badminton authorities promised to look into the matter independently. However, suspicions that Chinese players have regularly thrown matches against teammates in the past are rife.
The real issue here is that this is a problem that could have been foreseen and it is the main reason why a group system in a tournament such as this doesn't really work. Table tennis caught on a decade ago, getting rid of the groups in singles and doubles play after the 2000 Sydney Games.
"People will do whatever they can to get an advantage," said former American track star Michael Johnson, commentating for the BBC. "The only way to stop it is to change the rules."
Those rules with surely change but it is sadly too late for this tournament. There is no attempt here to defend the actions of the players, who cast their sport in the worst possible light and created the most humiliating of incidents. Badminton does not get many chances to show itself off on a big stage, and the theory that all publicity is good publicity doesn't really wash in this instance.
But temptation should have been taken out of the players' grasp. What they did was wrong. It was ugly. It was completely against the Olympic ideal.
But it wasn't cheating. The only cheating that took place was from the organizers, who shortchanged the public and did their sport a disservice.
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