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. Tim Ganesh

    Where is the intergriy of the World body? BWF is the only body having the authority to sanction tournaments, be it Thomas & Uber Cups, Sudirman Cup, Super Series tournaments etc. To tackle the issue at this juncture is rather lame for the profit making outfit. Who is it to reprimand BWF for its high handed way in dealing with the players? Why BWF did not act on this known secret among badminton playing nations and throw the book against Chna badminton body for using this loophole? Since last Olympic games many a times this matter was highlighted but no action from BWF other than lip service How then for a world body to forge Olympic spirit where as a body it is not capable to reel in recalcitrant nation like china badminton..in the end the players are made the scapegoat..

    August 2, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gloria

    Talk about scandals... Come on, bring back SOFTBALL!!!

    August 2, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Grimlock

    People who say that this is not the same as "intentional walk" in baseball should think more carefully about the object of the "game" here. These top players are here not to win a match, but to win a medal. If you look at each match as just one part of the journey, just like each hitter faced is just one part of the game. It is okay for them to lose a match if that increases the chances of winning a medal, just like you can intentionally walk a hitter (even if bases are full) to increase the chances of winning the game.

    From China's perspective (and maybe others), having its top 2 meet at the end would result in two medals. Having them met earlier would result in at most one medal. So that also makes sense in terms of strategies.

    While I agree that nobody would want to watch games played like that, I do find it very difficult to accept the disqualification, unless there are official rules that deal with this specifically (which I do not know). Otherwise, how can you make a set of rules, and then punish the athletes afterwards for loopholes that were there? They did follow the rules, as far as I can tell. If it is indeed true, could there be some kind of legal challenge?

    August 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grimlock

      What about in the last Superbowl when one team intentionally not defend in the hope that it will work out better at the end?

      August 2, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      It's not the same as intentionally walking a batter in baseball. To compare it with baseball, the team would have to intentionally lose the game (not just avoid a player). Teams that intentionally lose in baseball face harsh punishments (just ask Shoeless Joe Jackson.) Having said all that, if there's no rule that says you have to try, then they should either change the format that makes throwing games beneficial, or make a rule banning it.

      August 3, 2012 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      Here are your official rules. As you can see FAIRPLAY (or sportsmanship, as it is often called) is in the rules. Hence, the disqualification was just and fair:

      "Players can be disqualified from the Olympics, even after the games are over, if they are found to be or have been in violation of the IOC Olympic games rules for participation. These include the following:

      • No violent behavior on the field
      • Respecting the spirit of fair play
      • No use of substances deemed illegal according to IOC Olympic games rules
      • Compliance with the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code
      • Must be a national of the country he or she is playing for."

      August 4, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Daisy Chang

    Dallas Mavericks did this one year so they could face the lowest rank team in the Western playoffs, the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors swept them. It was a very sweet victory.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. NY

    How about intentional walk in baseball? Is it allowed if it's just one part of a single game? Maybe they were just considering the whole tournament as one game.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. EVN

    Throwing a match to gain a better position in subsequent rounds to get a better shot at medaling is wrong. Yes it is a strategy for the "big pay-off", but so is throwing a game for money.

    August 2, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott Pringle

      I think that this is a question best answered by self reflection. what is the purpose of such endeavors and in your heart you already know that loop holes and such things are used to cover moral weakness.

      August 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. CRC

    If the rules incentivize this and do not explicitly forbid throwing a match (a very subjective thing to have to enforce, so best to avoid such a rule) then the players are not at fault, but just employing good strategy. Like a commenter said, the goal is to medal, not win in any specific match. This is just life folks, and something ill understood. People don't do what is "right" or act according to ideals. They do what is incentivized, whether you want to believe it or not.

    August 3, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  8. Phil

    Why is OK for track and swimmers to not push themselves in the qualifying rounds? People paid to see them too, why dont they set records there? Strategy is praised there, and a Sin elsewhere...

    August 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • magnus

      100% different. they do not give 100% because they have to conserve energy not because they want an easier draw.

      August 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crackaa

      Swimmers and runners still come in the top 2 when conserving energy. These people wanted to lose and ot be in the top. Totally different. Also, they are still winning the qualifying round, unlike these players. And walking a player in baseball is equivalent to swinging and missing the birdie here, not throwing the whole match. You people are comparing apples to oranges, and Donn taking a knee in football is so your players do not get hurt, fumble or make a mistake because you already WON the game. IDIOTS!

      August 7, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jeffrey

    I believe that all athletes participating in the Olympics have to take some oath promising to uphold "sportmanship." So even though the rules do not explicitly condemn throwing the matches, I would say that it is not in the spirit of sportsmanship.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. rafael

    It is called strategy, and they should be rewarded for it, not disqualified. If rules lead to behavior you don't like then change the rules.

    August 5, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  11. Grimlock

    If only "fair play" or "sportmanship" is mentioned in the rules, I still do not think there is any grounds for disqualification. Unless these terms are exactly defined, using some vauge commonsense idea of what they should be is simply not fair.

    August 5, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  12. magnus

    determine the brackets in the knockout stage by picking them out of a hat.

    August 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Swimmers do hold back in their heats if it means they will get a preferential lane in the next race

      August 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • I don't think so

      ummmm, I don't think so, the preferential lanes are given to the TOP qualifiers (assigned based on qualifying position) so how in the world can holding out give them the preferential lane????

      August 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sean

    British cyclist intentionally crashed.... that doesn't disqualify him?

    August 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Donn

    It's interesting to me that folks are outraged over this type of activity in an Olympic event but have no problem with professional sports. For example, "taking a knee" in football is standard practice for a team to ensure a win by not playing out the last couple minutes of the game...

    August 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seriously

      Again you are not comparing apples to apples!! Man some people just don't get it! Taking a knee would be compared to one "Play" not the entire game!!!!!!! It would be like not going for a serve because it is too far out of reach, that is totally different then throughing the whole game!!!!!

      August 8, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seriously

      LOL throwing!

      August 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Snuffles

    What about choosing to not play your best players b/c the game doesn't matter to you but it does for the other team but you want to rest your team for the first round of playoffs.

    August 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dustin

      So what are you getting at? Intentionally losing points and games, the last time I checked, only end in suspension, fines and being banned from a sport. I mean seriously, resting your players versus throwing games because you don't like your draw is non-sense. NBA is a different story where match-ups mean everything, but last I checked they are not allowed to do that. So what do they do? Rest their star players. They don't just throw the ball out of bounds or just travel all the time, that would be an equivalent. So no, I have ZERO respect for the players who were disqualified, next time pick a better strategy or even yet, DON"T MAKE IT OBVIOUS! Respect the game, respect sportsmanship, and realize your actions are viewed by everyone, especially at the OLYMPIC LEVEL.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
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