Olympics scandal: Badminton the biggest loser
The festering issue of draw rigging in badminton has finally erupted on the biggest sporting stage and while the expulsion of eight players at the Olympics will eventually blow over, it is sure to leave a sizeable scar.india Updated: Aug 03, 2012 03:53 IST
The festering issue of draw rigging in badminton has finally erupted on the biggest sporting stage and while the expulsion of eight players at the Olympics will eventually blow over, it is sure to leave a sizeable scar.
The sight of four women's doubles pairs deliberately throwing their matches to secure a better run to the medal rounds disgusted a crowd of 4,800 packed into Wembley Arena expecting to see the best of badminton's best.
Instead they were treated with disdain as the Chinese, South Korean and Indonesian players sprayed hopeless shots into the net and beyond the lines. Their antics were also beamed around the globe to a disbelieving audience.
Disturbingly, the badminton world had been expecting it.
Players and coaches lamented a culture of manipulation that had been allowed to take hold of the professional tour for years. The only shock, one player said, was the teams had the gall to do it at the Olympics.
"There's always been talk of China working out who wins before, if their teams are playing each other or set to play each other," Germany's singles player Marc Zweiber said.
"Korea did something similar in a Thomas Cup event before," he added, referring to the national team-based event.
"There has been talk the whole season that the Chinese team have fixed matches. I don't feel the BWF (Badminton World Federation) does anything to solve it. I think they need to do more."
The BWF disqualified the four pairs on Wednesday, saying they needed to take a strong stance against conduct "clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport".
The players thrown out were China's top-seeded duo Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, South Korean pairs Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, and Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung, plus Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari of Indonesia.
The federation also said they would review the format of round-robin pool matches for the opening round, instituted for the first time at an Olympics, after it proved ripe for rigging in London.
While an International Olympic Committee spokesman said badminton's place on the Games programme would be safe, the sport will clearly have to do a lot of soul searching and swallow some bitter pills to repair its battered image.
But even as the sanctions were being handed down, coaches and team officials said they would have considered using the same underhand tactics with Olympic medals on the line.
A Danish pair had scored a surprise win over second seeds Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei of China in the women's preliminary round, inadvertently setting off a chain of events that ended with eight players being kicked out of the Games.
"I'm very happy we were the ones that made all the trouble by causing an upset," Denmark's head coach Lars Uhre told Reuters.
"We know China are doing the best they can to give the best possible result for themselves as a nation so it's not a surprise - it's a bad system."
Fabrice Vallet, a coach with the French team, said the players deserved disqualification and needed to be on their best behaviour with the eyes of the world on the sport every four years.
"If we went to be solid in the Olympics we need to show we can play in the Olympic spirit," he said.
"The Olympic spirit is fairness and that's the first thing."
The evening session of the tournament descended into chaos on Tuesday, with fans jeering two separate matches as players deliberately missed shots and dumped serves into the net in a race to the bottom, forcing the BWF to mount an investigation.
A BWF panel charged the players with "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" were brought against the players.
The decision knocked China's top-seeded pair of Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli out of the tournament, along with South Korean pairs Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, and Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung.
Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari were also expelled for their involvement in the second of the two tainted matches on Tuesday.
The head of Indonesia's badminton federation criticised the decision and denied it had instructed its players to 'throw' their match.
"We come here not to lose medals, we want to have medals," Indonesian Badminton Association chief Erick Thohir said.
"I think to blame China is also not fair.
The disqualification polarised players and team officials.
While some regarded it as unduly harsh, others welcomed it as a good precedent for the sport, which has been dogged by complaints from players about similar manipulations in other tournaments.
Most pointed the fingers at the Chinese team for creating the scandal.
"I can say China has played dirty," said Poland's Korean head coach Young Man Kim. "Unsportsmanship. They fixed the matches, that's why everything is messy here."
Players slammed the BWF for instituting a format that was ripe for manipulation.
Badminton officials introduced a preliminary pool round for London after starting the tournament with knockout rounds in previous Games. Denmark's head coach called for it to be overhauled, given it was prone to manipulation.
"Why would the tournament rules people have (a format) like this?" men's singles world number one Lin Dan told reporters at Wembley Arena. "If they just had a knockout round it would all be fine. You lose and that's it," the Chinese added.
Lund said the BWF needed to review its regulations to prevent a similar scandal for re-occurring.
"The group play has generally been a tremendous success for this tournament, it's created really good matches and a lot that we've never seen before," he added.
"But we also have to be clear that there has been a problem here, we have to take that problem very seriously."
India's badminton team stepped into the furore, accusing a Japanese women's doubles team of going easy against Taiwanese opponents from the same group as India's doubles pair Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa.
Lund said there were no grounds to take the matter further.
Danish mixed doubles player Thomas Laybourn spoke of a "tragic" situation in which the scandal had overshadowed the genuine competitors and blackened the sport's name.
"I heard the news yesterday and everyone was talking about this and all the newspapers were writing about it, so in the end it could mean that badminton is being taken off the Olympic programme in 2020," Laybourn told Reuters.
"When something like this happens it's not good publicity."
The BWF issued a revised schedule promoting four teams to replace the disqualified pairs in the quarter-finals.
That put Russian women's doubles pair Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova against South Africa's Michelle Edwards and Annari Viljoen. Canada's Alex Bruce and Michele Li would play Leanne Choo and Renuga Veeran in the other affected quarter-final.
The turmoil completely overshadowed the competition on day five. With only the knockout matches to be played, the matches proceeded without incident in front of a near-capacity crowd.
Chinese world champion pair of Xiaoli Wang and Yu Yang on Tuesday looked to lose to their South Korean opponents Kyung Eun Jung and Ha Na Kim as they did not want to finish on top of their group.
It would have led them to face another Chinese pair in the semifinals instead of both of them potentially vying for gold in the final by figuring in opposite halves of the draw. READ MORE
Asian fans turn to social media over fixing
Many microbloggers in China and across the region blamed the match-throwing on the system rather than the players, who it said were encouraged to lose qualifying matches so that they faced easier opponents in the later stages.
"Might as well retire, many countries need you, and maybe in those places no one will order you not to win your next match," wrote one user identified as Flower Hat.
"Our country as a whole likes to exploit loopholes," said a microblogger called Qiao Jiujun. The scandal reflected shortcomings in China's social system and its short-sighted obsession with gold medals, he wrote.
In an online Chinese poll that had collected 700 votes as of Thursday afternoon, 49% of respondents said it would be a pity for Yu to leave the sport.
Forty percent said she should do so to prompt reflection among "relevant departments", a likely reference to the government.
In Indonesia, web users were also divided, with many expressing anger at the players and others at the game's governing body.
"It's so embarrassing that our badminton players are disqualified in London," said Saharaniharsih, echoing widespread feeling.
South Korean Internet users, meanwhile, were generally scathing toward the four players the country lost to the scandal.
Few were sympathetic to the argument put forward by one South Korean pair that they were merely copying the tactics of their Chinese opponents.
"Don't even think about blaming Chinese players. It was even more wrong to criticise them and do the same thing. What is wrong, is wrong," said a user Linkinpark on major portal Daum.net, one of two blogs where the topic ranked in the top 10 list.
The affair also attracted the attention of other badminton-mad countries like Malaysia, where fans are closely following the progress of world number two Lee Chong Wei -- the nation's best hope for its first Olympic gold medal.
"Kick out whoever brings shame to badminton and China in particular has doubtful record about fair play," a Malaysian man wrote on the Facebook page of the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
More than 77,000 tweets containing the word "badminton" were created on August 2, according to social media search engine topsy.com. By contrast there are just over 400,000 tweets on the term since Twitter was launched in 2006.
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(with inputs from AFP)