London 2012: Disqualified badminton players unfairly punished for playing the long game
Published on Wednesday August 01, 2012
By Cathal Kelly Columnist
LONDON—Reflecting on the decision of four badminton teams to throw their games here in order to get a better playoff draw, the face of London 2012 spent Wednesday wagging his finger.
“Depressing. Who wants to sit through something like that?” LOCOG chief Sebastian Coe moaned. “It is unacceptable.”
It’s an unseemly thing for him to say.
Coe long ago retired from athletics, and instead switched over to a job in sales. It’s no longer within his competence to judge what is or isn’t ethically acceptable behaviour for people who still need to win in order to pay their rent.
Hours later, the discipline’s governing body cravenly capitulated to public opinion (most of that public presumably having never watched a game of badminton before in their lives).
Four teams, including the defending world champions, were tossed from the badminton competition for the sin of playing the long game instead of the short one.
What’s not at issue here is that games were thrown.
The four pairs – two from South Korea, and one each from China and Indonesia – embarked on an amusing journey into true amateurism on Tuesday night.
Over and over, they smashed the shuttlecock into the net. They put easy shots well wide. No rally lasted more than four returns.
How would you look competing in the Olympics? Now you know.
All four pairs were trying to ease their draw going into the knockout round, where lesser teams play each other before they meet the powerhouses. The Chinese, who have used this strategy for years on the world badminton stage, wanted to ensure their entrants could not meet before the gold medal match.
They’re out now. Four inferior teams, including a Canadian pair, were pushed forward as replacement cannon fodder. Problem not quite solved.
That’s the silver lining to this thing – playing another surprise entrant, Australia, Canadians Alex Bruce and Michele Li advanced to Thursday’s semis. They’re one win from a medal. You’re happy for them, but just because it broke right for us doesn’t make it fair.
If anyone’s to blame, it is organizers who decided to make this competition a round robin instead of a straight elimination. You want maximum effort? You make every match count. Otherwise, you introduce gamesmanship into the mix.
The ticket buying public was upset. Vocally so inside the venue, chanting “Off! Off! Off!” Three hundred years ago, their ancestors meant ‘heads’ when they said that.
That seems to be the real problem here. The gawkers didn’t reach their fun quota on Tuesday night. If so, the ticket buying public can go suck rocks.
The only people who matter at the Olympics are the ones standing inside the lines of play. They’re the ones doing what they are not paid to do — they are competing. At this level, strategic losing is part of that.
It happens in most sports, though more subtly. If they’re going to start booting every athlete who takes it easy in a heat or fields an understrength squad in a meaningless game, the next job for all the soldiers wandering around here is switching out fatigues for spandex and beginning to compete.
If you want to watch people playing for the sheer joy of doing so, I’m sure there’s a badminton club somewhere within driving distance of wherever you live. Otherwise, leave what’s acceptable behavior inside the game to those for whom it actually matters.
What Coe and all the rest of the frothers are getting confused here is the difference between a spectacle and a show.
The Olympics are entertaining. They are not entertainment.
Professional athletes owe you their best every night. That’s what they’re getting paid to do. Amateurs owe nothing to the crowd. This isn’t a circus. They’re not getting a cut of the gate.
Amateurs are here to represent their country and win medals. The national federations that pay their subsistence wage are their bosses. They don’t care how good you look. They don’t care how hard you tried. They care how much you win. Public sports funding isn’t charity. It’s an extension of a nation’s foreign policy objectives. One of those is that you are hale enough to occasionally kick the asses of your friends and enemies.
Putting aside all the lip service paid to respecting the Olympic spirit (tell that to the guys working at the doping labs), the highest goal here is to win within the boundaries of the rules.
There is no rule in any sport anywhere that says you have to be good. Otherwise, none of us would play anything.
They play these Games to win.
What is truly depressing is that while undetected drug cheats will continue on here, a group of competitors playing by the well-established rules of their small world have been robbed of glory by people who didn’t know who they were before yesterday, and will forget who they are in a few days time.
But for those eight competitors, the unfairness of being robbed by a riled-up, half-interested mob, will last forever.`