Badminton disqualifications: Players allegedly tempted by own rules
China's Yu Yang, left, and Wang Xiaoli were two of the eight badminton players disqualified from the Olympics this week.
August 1st, 2012
10:53 PM ET

Badminton disqualifications: Players allegedly tempted by own rules

Until this week, badminton probably wasn’t one of the sports that Americans generally linked to cheating and international scandal. More like backyard cookouts and college fitness classes.

Even the college gym types, though, understand there’s an unspoken agreement between participants: Championship or practice, competition or graduation requirement, you will not intentionally lose to a worthy opponent.

Players might balk at this if they’re rewarded for shunning victory. That’s allegedly what was at play this week when four pairs of female badminton players were disqualified from the Olympics, accused of trying to lose their last qualifying-round matches to face easier opponents in the knockout stage.

The players appear to have denied paying spectators of the competitive matches they’d come to see. The London Olympic organizing committee’s chairman, Sebastian Coe, said the incident was depressing and unacceptable.

But it’s not the first time that this has happened in a tournament’s group stage. And it’s not even the only time in these very Games that a team tried not to win.

The coach of Japan women’s Olympic soccer team acknowledged that it intentionally avoided scoring in its third and final group game, a 0-0 draw with winless South Africa on Wednesday, according to The Independent.

Japan would have won its four-team group with a victory. But a draw put it in second, just enough to qualify for the knockout stage.

Japan’s coach says he did it to ensure the team didn’t travel across the United Kingdom. Second place meant it would start the knockout round in Cardiff, Wales, where the squad already was. The winner of Group F, in contrast, will play its first knockout game in Scotland.

“It was important not to move to Glasgow but to stay here and prepare for the next match,” Japanese coach Norio Sasaki said, according to The Independent.

Other teams throughout the years have been accused of manipulating their last group-stage games to ensure a desired knockout-round match. Suspicion about Sweden’s 2006 Olympic hockey team swirled, for example, after it avoided powerhouse Canada in the knockout round by losing to Slovakia in the final group game, suspicions fanned by Swedish star Peter Forsberg, who said nothing about any such plan but told Sweden’s SVT that he “saw no reason to win the (Slovakia) game” before walking those comments back, according to Philly.com.

It’s not entirely certain why the four badminton teams one from China, two from South Korea and one from Indonesia allegedly threw their last group-stage games. But the bracket illustrates why teams might be tempted to throw games in such a format.

The competition comprises four groups of four teams, with teams playing three games against its own group. Afterward, the top two teams from each group advance to a single-elimination tournament.

The world’s No. 1 team, Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China, were in Group A. You’d think they’d want to win the group, so they could face Group C’s second-place team in the quarterfinals. Because if they finished second in A, they’d face Group C’s first-place squad.

But something happened in the other groups, the Bs and Ds, that might have made a potential semifinal match worrisome for A1. The world’s No. 2 team, China’s Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei who are not accused of wrongdoing had a so-so time in Group D and finished second there.

D2 and B1 are on A1’s side of the bracket for the semis. So, theoretically, if Wang and Yu were A1, they could meet D2 their countrywomen and the world No. 2 squad, Tian and Zhao in the semis.

But A2 is on the other side. If both A2 and D2 won out, they wouldn’t meet until the final.

In Group A’s final match Tuesday, Wang/Yu faced South Korea’s Jung-Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na. Both already had qualified for the knockout round. They are accused of trying to lose to each other in that match, which would make them A2 instead of A1.

The crowd booed as it appeared the pairs were serving into the net on purpose, and the tournament referee interrupted the match to issue warnings. “Neither side seemed to be exerting themselves,” an official Olympic news release said.

Wang and Yu eventually lost, meaning they’d be on opposite sides of the No. 2 team.

Later, Group C’s top two teams Indonesia’s Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii, and South Korea’s Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung – also seemed to be trying to lose to each other in an apparent bid to arrange easier knockout opponents, Olympics officials said.

China's Lin Dan, the No. 2 men's singles player, told reporters Tuesday that he hoped the accused would be disqualified, saying he thought the performances presented “a bad image for badminton." But he also blamed the group-stage format, which was a switch for Olympic badminton. Badminton in the 2008 Olympics was strictly a single-elimination affair.

"Whenever they set the rules, they should take that situation into consideration," Lin said, according to The Guardian. "I don't understand why there is a group situation (rather than a straight knockout competition)."

Group stages are designed to let the best teams rise to the top, but still give all squads a fair shot over a number of games before elimination. All participants in the Olympics badminton tournament got a minimum of three games, whereas a single-elimination tournament, or even a double-elimination, would have seen some teams go home sooner.

Mike Walker, who won 14 U.S. national badminton titles, and 2012 U.S. national men’s doubles champion Kowi Chandra told CNN that the format has its positives, but both prefer single-elimination.

“(Single-elimination) is a much cleaner event,” Walker, a California badminton supply business owner and 1992 USA Badminton Walk of Fame inductee, said by phone Wednesday. “You play and you lose, or you play and you win.”

But both said the format was no excuse for the eight disqualified Olympians.

“I was shocked,” Chandra said Wednesday. “It’s the Olympic Games, and you play like this and throw the match? It’s very disappointing. It’s not a good example for young players.”

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Filed under: China • Indonesia • Olympics • South Korea • Sports
soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. Dave in Arizona

    Any true strategist knows that sometimes you have to lose a battle in order to win a war. This is no different. They're employing a strategy to maximize the end result, using the very structure and rules of the system to do it.

    Is it "sportsmanlike"? That's a subjective judgement. The sport includes the rules that govern it. And if those rules give the losers some advantage, then losing becomes part of the sport's path to victory.

    It's no different than keeping a player on the bench in the NBA so he's well-rested for the next game. You might lose the current game as a result, but you're in a better position to win the next. It's no different.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • david

      No matter how many times you say "It is no different", it is.

      August 8, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Louis

      +1 dave in AZ

      August 10, 2012 at 3:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Well, david, how is it different?

      Forsberg admitted they did it in Olympic hockey. Every hockey fan *knows* that NHL teams rest their top players at the end of the season. Baseball fans know they won't see the top pitcher in the rotation if he is needed early in the playoffs.

      Point being: some sports and tournaments require strategy off the court as well as on.

      And I'll add that as long as the incentive is there to lose, then teams will do it. They'll simply be smarter about it next time and only serve into the net 1/2 the time. And as long as somebody is arbitrarily deciding "you tried hard enough; but you didn't", then you're going to have mistakes and corruption in the judging as well.

      So why not go for the simple solution: Let the winner of each group choose their bracket spot, the runner up gets what is left. Issue resolved, people try.

      August 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Starman

    Resting players is one thing - telling the players on the field to "lose" is another thing. The former may have bettors moaning while the latter is ruinous to the sport.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jesse

    It sounds like the issue isn't so much the players, as it is the entire system. Instead of round robin, why not a tournament style?

    August 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jim M

    Badminton, Handball, and Table Tennis as Olympic sports?
    Why not include, Horseshoes, Croquet, Bocce Ball, and GO-Kart Racing as future Olympic sports.

    August 9, 2012 at 2:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bill

      Well since you're going to be putting in machines (go-karts), how about Starcraft?

      August 15, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Derek

    Solution is simple.. do the group stage to allow more games and then the top two from each group goes into the hat for the knockout stage. That way it is completely random which team will play whom until the drawing.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Stan

    MLB baseball changed it's playoff format this year to include two wildcard teams. Until now, MLB had the same kind of issue. The Olympics is not the Academy awards for the best acting team. They need to change the rules before blaming the teams.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. PV in CA

    I don't understand why it is so hard for some people to understand why the players did what they did – all you have to do is imagine the scenario on their behalf: When you're playing at that level, everybody know their rankings and have absolutely NO disillusion about what and how things really are. If for instance, your rank is 2nd or 4th in the world, then you know that you SHOULD be fighting for your chance to medal at the Olympics (a world-stage that only comes around every FOUR years, pretty much a lifetime when you consider the level of physicality one needs to be in to compete). If knowing you're good enough to medal, yet having to deal with the rank 1 team prior to that round, a feat which requires you to play at your level and getting to that point in the first place, mind you, then it's a bitter pill to swallow if you just "play by the rules". It's the system, not the athletes. And about that "apples and oranges" thing, seriously? If we're talking about upholding an honor code and integrity and blah blah, then we must deal in absolutes – either no tactical, "underhanded" strategy (yes, INCLUDING walking, benching, running clock), playing to your absolute potential at ALL times, or everything's allowed per the rule of the game, the system, or whatever may have you. Reminder, all sports are systems of rules which must be followed, which encompasses tournament rules, and as such should both be treated accordingly when "how to play" is considered.

    August 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jason

    Happens in all the game ... they were targeting because they were Chinese

    August 18, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kiley

    I haven't seen a question like this before on Yahoo answers, but is the 350$ lessons (6 hours) really worth it? (Driving isn't hard, I know, but I want the lessons solely to reduce insurance rates).

    September 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Gail Chatley

    i love to play badminton specially during the weekends. this game rocks.-

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    January 9, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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