Eight badminton players who deliberately performed poorly in matches have been thrown out of the London Olympics, a rare disqualification at the games for athletes failing to try their best.
The Chinese, South Korean and Indonesian players, who were competing in the women’s doubles yesterday, drew a caution from the umpire and jeers from spectators at Wembley Arena in London during their matches. They were disqualified today after a five-hour meeting of the Badminton World Federation’s four-member disciplinary committee at a hotel near the venue.
The teams may have been trying to lose so they could avoid more difficult opponents in the quarterfinals, when the competition moves to a knockout stage. The teams had already qualified out of the group competition, which was new in this year’s Olympics.
“Everybody is required to play their best every time they go on court,” Thomas Lund, the federation’s secretary general, said at a press conference today. “I don’t think this will affect our status as an Olympic sport. We had a single incident.”
The teams were charged 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,” the federation said in an e-mailed statement.
The world champions and top seeds, Yu Yang, 26, and Wang Xiaoli, 23, from China, and South Korea’s Jung Kyung-Eun, 22, and Kim Ha-Na, 22, were warned by officials because they appeared to deliberately serve into the net. A second South Korean pair, the third-seeded Ha Jung Eun 25, and Kim Min Jung, 26, and Indonesia’s Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii, 24, have also been disqualified.
The badminton federation said at a news conference it had rejected appeals from the two South Korean teams and that an Indonesian appeal had been withdrawn. China didn’t appeal it’s athletes’ expulsions.
Chinese Olympic officials said in a statement that they “fully respect” the expulsion of their athletes.
“The behavior of Yu Yang and Wang Xiao violated the principles of the Olympic Movement and went against the spirit of fair play,” the Chinese delegation said in the statement released through the Xinhua news service. “It hurt our hearts.”
South Korea defeated China in the Group A match 2-0 to set up a meeting with another Chinese pair, Tian Quing and Zhao Yunlei. By losing, Yu and Wang had avoided playing their Chinese compatriots until the final.
“It’s depressing, who wants to sit through something like that?” Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, told reporters at the Olympic Park. “The badminton federation will take it very seriously.”
The match referee warned the players at 14-10 in the first game. Tournament referee Torsten Berg of Denmark was called and told the teams that they faced punishment if they didn’t compete properly. South Korea head coach Sung Han Kook placed the blame with the Chinese pair.
“It’s not like the Olympics spirit to play like this,” Sung said at London’s Wembley Arena. “How could the No. 1 pair in the world play like this? They start playing mistakes.”
Yu, Wang, Jung and Kim were booed by the crowd as they exited after the South Korean pair won 21-14, 21-11.
Yu told journalists that she and her partner were already through and were conserving energy for the elimination stage.
“If we’re not playing the best, it’s because it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The most important thing is the elimination match.”
In 2003, Yang Wei and Zhang Jiewen were found guilty of fixing the result of their quarterfinal at badminton’s World Championship for not trying in the second game of their defeat to eventual champions and fellow Chinese Gao Ling and Huang Sui, the British Broadcasting Corp. Said. Although the pair was reprimanded, no other punishment was given, the BBC said at the time.
The Japanse women’s soccer team, the World Cup champion, rested players in a 0-0 draw against South Africa yesterday in Cardiff, Wales. Japan already had qualified for the knockout round and the tie, rather than a win, means it will stay in Cardiff against Britain or Brazil rather than have to travel to Glasgow, Scotland, to face France or the U.S., the team it beat for the world championship a year ago.
“It was the coach’s instruction that we wanted to stay in Cardiff and come second in the group, so I knew that the bench were getting information about the other match and I had been told,” Japanese player Azusa Iwashimizu said in comments on the Olympic News service. “So it was difficult to play, but I understood his idea because it is something we needed to do in order to get a medal.”
Coach Norio Sasaki said Japan didn’t field its best squad.
“Today I have replaced several of the players compared to the last match as I wanted to give a chance to all 18 players, to let them experience the Olympics,” Sasaki said.
There has been at least one other disqualification of Olympic athletes for failing to compete at their fullest, according to David Wallechinsky, a historian of the games and a commentator in London for NBC Radio.
In 1924, Italian fencers were accused by judges of conspiring to help Oreste Puliti win a saber competition by having three teammates intentionally lose to him to inflate his score, Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said in a telephone interview.
Puliti threatened to cane the Hungarian judge, Gyorgy Kovacs, and was disqualified.
Puliti confronted Kovacs a few days later and the two eventually agreed to a duel.
“They fought a real duel with real swords and slashed away at each other, and then they shook hands and made up,” Wallechinsky said. “Blood was drawn.”
In 1960, also in saber, there was an accusation of a match being thrown, though judges decided it was a legitimate contest, Wallechinsky said.
The format of the Olympic Badminton tournament was changed this year to allow spectators to see more of the top players, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said today.
“This is a new format, they moved from a knock-out to a round robin to allow the best players and all the players to be seen more often, to play more games,” Adams told reporters. “It has been tested out and it has worked very well up to now. We had good reassurances that this would work.”
The badminton federation had no choice but to disqualify the athletes, according to Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a sports management professor at George Washington University in Washington who has attended 16 Olympics.
“They had to do it,” she said in a telephone interview. “Otherwise there would continue to be fixed matches and unethical behavior. When the athletes take the Olympic oath it says that they’re going to be playing to the best of their ability and not cheating. This is a form of unethical behavior, trying to lose in order to gain a competitive advantage.”
There have been controversies in other sports with teams not trying hard enough to please the crowds.
In the 1982 soccer World Cup, West Germany and Austria were booed off the field after the Germans won 1-0. The Germans needed a win to progress from the group stage, and the Austrians were already through, as long as they didn’t lose by more than four goals.
After the Germans scored in the 11th minute, the two teams failed to create a chance in the rest of the game. The result meant Algeria failed to advance to the next round.
In London, badminton players said that the punishment was too harsh, and blamed the setup of the competition. Lin Dan of China said his compatriots deserved another chance, saying other teams were using similar tactics.
“Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” Jan Jorgensen of Denmark after losing his match in the men’s singles today. “It’s the fault of the BWF, it’s the setup.”
Paul Deighton, chief executive officer of the London organizing committee, said people who attended the matches won’t get their tickets refunded.
“They did get to see another game, it wasn’t a one off game, and as far as I know no one has asked for a refund,” Deighton told reporters today. “If you get into that territory it’s very gray and dangerous territory.”