Sport & Culture

China, Indonesia and South Korea’s Shared Olympic Shame

All three nations had players who were disqualified for throwing matches in badminton. Were the rules to blame?

The debate concerning Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shinwen and her golden exploits in London is still raging but there are another eight women – two from China, two from Indonesia and four from South Korea – who were all disqualified from badminton doubles for trying to lose matches.

The system of badminton has changed at these Olympics. It used to be a straight knockout format but this time a round-robin was introduced – perhaps for the first and only time.

The situation was simple. The four teams had already booked their spots in the quarterfinals with one game remaining in the round robin stage and were therefore all trying to ensure what they thought was the easiest path to a gold medal.

It all started when China’s second-seeds, Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei, unexpectedly lost to a Danish pair.

China presumably wanted both its teams to meet in the final to guarantee gold and silver.

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Now, however, if number the top-ranked pair, Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang, defeated South Korea in the round-robin stage, they could then meet their compatriots in the semi-final and not the final.

The only way to avoid that was to finish second and be placed into the opposite side of the draw.

So Wang and Yu proceeded to attempt to throw the game against the Koreans. The Koreans responded by also trying to lose but failed and ultimately ended up winning the game.

Fans at Wembley Arena quickly realized what was happening with the missed shots and feeble attempts to return serves and they started to express their displeasure. The referee twice intervened to talk to the players.

In the very next match, in an attempt to try an avoid what should have been the top-ranking China pair the Indonesian and Korean pairs also proceeded to try and lose their game.

The players involved have been disqualified.

Yu Yang has apparently quit the sport, writing on her Sina Weibo account, “Farewell my dear badminton." The Korean players have been ordered to return to Seoul.

China’s Olympic delegation criticized the players.

“The behavior by Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli on court violated the Olympics ideal and the spirit of fair play. The Chinese delegation feels distressed over this matter,” the delegation said.

Some have argued that the players, while certainly not conducting themselves in the best traditions of the Olympics, are ultimately not to blame. After all, they were just seeking to maximize their chances of winning.

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These people say the round-robin format is to blame for the incident. There is some truth to this as evidenced by the fact that similar incidents have and continue to happen in other sports using the same format.

There is also the fact something similar has happened and continues to happen in other sports. In fact, the coach of Japan’s female football (U.S. soccer) team just admitted to telling his players not to win against South Africa.

Then there’s the infamous 1982 World Cup match between Germany and Austria that led to simultaneous kick-off times being imposed in the final group games in all major football tournaments, something that could have prevented the badminton farce.

Ultimately however, perhaps the real blame lies with the pressure athletes are under to win.

"There is a lot of conflicts in the Olympics," Danish team manager Finn Traerup-Hansen said.

"We are pushed on medals from our national governing bodies to produce medals," he said. "The other side of it is, of course, the ideal of the Olympics."