Olympics scandal: playing to lose in … badminton

posted at 3:16 pm on August 1, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

One can understand the pressure to throw games in the Olympics, right?  I mean, all that heavy money coming down in Vegas and Atlantic City could mean that someone can make a killing on … badminton?

Eight female badminton doubles players were disqualified Wednesday from the London Olympics after trying to lose matches to receive a more favorable place in the tournament.

The Badminton World Federation announced its ruling after investigating two teams from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia. It punished them for “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport” in matches Tuesday night. …

The competition was to continue later Wednesday. It was unclear if four eliminated teams would be placed into the quarterfinals or if the competition would restart at the semifinal stage.

Wow!  Who knew that badminton was such a cutthroat sport?  Next we’ll hear that synchronized swim teams routinely kick out of step in the early rounds to stoke viewer interest.  In both cases, viewer interest could hardly be hurt.

Actually, that’s not entirely true in this shuttlecock scandal.  The Olympics changed format in the tournament from an elimination structure to a round-robin before the semi-finals.  That change prompted teams to start strategically losing in order to gain more favorable matchups, a problem that actually predated this Olympiad in the sport.  This led to an inevitable scenario in which both teams on the court started playing to lose.  The crowd, which apparently expected an exciting match, started booing loudly.  That finally caught the attention of officials in the sport’s governing body, which suspended the four teams that couldn’t do a better job of hiding their Chip & Dale “no, after you” strategy.  Their first clue: the spectators were actually awake enough to boo.

Is this really “cheating,” though, as it’s customarily understood?  The Olympics provided a set of incentives with its round-robin formula to which teams responded naturally.  If they want participants to play to win at all times, then perhaps they should craft the tournament structure so that it doesn’t reward losses by superior teams, which is exactly what this tournament did. If they do that, well, viewer interest in badminton may eventually surpass that of … rhythmic gymnastics.

Update: Link fixed … but it’s interesting that it took 40+ comments before anyone noticed that it was broken.


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