Fans of the Summer Olympics who never knew badminton was a competitive sport have been shown otherwise. It’s so competitive that when the rules of competition invite poor sportsmanship, that’s exactly what they produce.
The top badminton teams in the world were disqualified for losing intentionally, as the New York Times’ Ken Belson reports. They chose to lose intentionally to improve their chances at winning subsequent matches:
On Tuesday night at the London Games, some of the world’s best badminton players hit some of the sport’s worst shots. Sad serves into the net. Returns that sailed far wide.
Howls from the crowd were loud and instant, and the calls for investigation immediate.
On Wednesday, four women’s doubles teams — two from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia — were disqualified. But the circumstances were complicated by the fact that the rules of the sport seemed to give the athletes an incentive to lose.
The eight players were found to have tried to lose their matches intentionally, apparently because they had determined that a loss would allow them to play a weaker opponent in the next round.
“The rules say you have to win every match, and that doesn’t mean you throw some matches and win other matches,” said Thomas Lund, the secretary general for the sport’s governing body, the Badminton World Federation.
Badminton officials introduced a preliminary round at the Olympics this year so that each team could play at least three times and not risk traveling thousands of miles only to be eliminated in the first match. But athletes and coaches have always looked for any available advantage, including throwing a match to save energy or to face an easier opponent in the next round.
There was nothing subtle about how the four teams of players — all of whom had already qualified for the quarterfinals — performed Tuesday night. They repeatedly served into the net and hit shots well out of bounds. During one match, a Danish umpire took the drastic step of flashing a black card to warn the players that they could be thrown out.
The disqualifications threw the tournament into turmoil and prompted protests and calls for rule changes. Indonesia appealed the decision and then withdrew the appeal, while the South Koreans had their appeal denied after officials reviewed the matches, interviewed the umpires and spoke to the players.
The eight disciplined players, who were found to have not tried their best and to have conducted themselves “in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport,” had been scheduled to play Wednesday. After their sudden exits, they were replaced by women’s doubles teams from Australia, Canada, Russia and South Africa. No coaches or teams were penalized.