FanDuel - WFBC

August 01, 2012

Trying their best to win at losing: Eight badminton players face disciplinary hearings for "not using one's best efforts to win a match" after two Olympic women's doubles matches where both pairs were very obviously playing to lose their final group matches in order to secure a better draw in the knockout round. This is the first Olympic tournament that's not been a pure knockout competition; it may be the last.

posted by etagloh to olympics at 01:53 AM - 32 comments

Completely disgusted that they seem to be set to progress in the tournament anyway. Between that and the fencing i'm pretty unimpressed.

posted by rodgerd at 05:51 AM on August 01

You can save your disgust. This is Great Britain, so they've all been disqualified for being terribly ungentlemanly.

posted by JJ at 10:18 AM on August 01

The people who should really get the ax are those who established a system of rules that allows an athlete to win by loosing. Athletes are supposed to game the system and use strategy to win the ultimate goal. Sometimes a pitcher intentionally looses a battle with a hitter to face a more favorable foe from a match up sense. It is a gamble but why wouldn't an athlete play within the rules to get the best chance at the ultimate success. Even in the Olympics it is common for athletes like swimmers and sprinters not to give their all in preliminary heats to save something, or prevent injury and ensure a better chance at success when it counts the most.

The whole thing is a rules and procedure issue. Shame on the organizers not the players.

posted by Atheist at 10:27 AM on August 01

This is Great Britain, so they've all been disqualified for being terribly ungentlemanly

Quite.

posted by tommytrump at 10:39 AM on August 01

The people who should really get the ax are those who established a system of rules that allows an athlete to win by loosing.

Especially when the players warned them this would happen if they changed from a knockout format.

posted by yerfatma at 10:49 AM on August 01

This is crazy. If athletes gain a long-term advantage from a loss, they will do that all the time.

posted by rcade at 11:05 AM on August 01

I have complete faith in Great Britain's ability to navigate the waters of ungentlemanly behavior.

"Gentlemen don't read each other's mail"

- Henry Stimson, US Secretary of State, 1929, as he announced the closing of the USDS Cryptanalytic Department.

Britain's approach to the importance of cryptanalysis? Bletchley Park.

(With solid groundwork previously laid down by a stellar Polish unit).

posted by beaverboard at 11:56 AM on August 01

Yep, they've all been disqualified.

I understand the motivation for organisers to introduce group play in these particular sports, because it gives spectators more matches to watch, and competitors more of an Olympic experience than one-and-done. But since the venue doesn't permit simultaneous competition for those final group games, there was always this risk. Back to the drawing board for Rio.

Even in the Olympics it is common for athletes like swimmers and sprinters not to give their all in preliminary heats to save something, or prevent injury and ensure a better chance at success when it counts the most.

There's a difference between pacing yourself in a heat and repeatedly throwing away points by serving into the net. It's the equivalent of the ASEAN championship match where Indonesia scored an own goal in injury time to avoid meeting Vietnam in the next round. It's taking the piss out of the sport, and for a sport like badminton where the Olympics is its biggest stage, that's not going to be tolerated.

posted by etagloh at 12:49 PM on August 01

It would seem that they've all been disqualified for not disguising their attempts to lose well enough

posted by geneparmesan at 02:52 PM on August 01

I've heard about the charge to return to knockouts, but I think this kind of oversight just sent a message for future group-stage tournaments. Athletes deserve more than coming for just one match; cheaters have a way of being uncovered and officials will take of them to protect the integrity of the game for the others.

posted by jjzucal at 05:37 PM on August 01

The question is whether it is "cheating" to take advantage of a poorly thought out competition structure. I also wonder if they were aware of these potential consequences. Given what I know, I'd say it is complete BS that they got disqualified.

posted by TheQatarian at 11:29 PM on August 01

Given what I know, I'd say it is complete BS that they got disqualified.

Watch the video of them playing the matches.

It's utterly disgraceful how they both teams are tanking, and not even being very coy about it. Something like 9 consecutive serves in a row are missed (alternating each side), and it's not even close.

The crowd and the umpire know what's up, and they are admonishing them after every point.

Not only should they be disqualified, but they should be banned from further competition at the Olympics (current and/or future).

posted by grum@work at 12:09 AM on August 02

I think this kind of oversight just sent a message for future group-stage tournaments.

It does, but there are logistical problems, especially for sports that aren't considered among the top tier at the Olympics. FIFA gets its pick of the UK's stadiums; the swimming federation gets a brand-new aquatics centre; the badminton federation gets a half-share of Wembley Arena (finals on the weekend, then rhythmic gymnastics moves in) that gives it three courts at once to get the tournament completed.

I think the moral of this story is "don't bite the hand that feeds you": if you're competing in (and earning a living from) a sport where the Olympics provides its biggest exposure to the world, it's probably not a good idea to disrespect it and its governing body, even if the format creates that opportunity.

posted by etagloh at 12:36 AM on August 02

I'm with Atheist: it's up to the organizers to try to provide an entertaining competition; it's up to the players to try to win medals within the system set up by the organizers. The organizers made a mistake and the players were punished for it. I wonder also, is most of the anger because the players didn't do a good enough job of hiding their desire to lose or that they tried to lose in the first place?

posted by sbacharach at 01:45 AM on August 02

The hard thing for me is that it appears that nearly all American fan's opinions are inconsistent with respect to athletes trying to find every competitive edge to win. The badminton player's apathy/tanking was trying to create an edge for themselves later on. It was trying to work within the outer edge of what was permissible to set themselves up for success later on. Sometimes fans call that approach "brilliant" and "strategic." Other times, "shady" & "cheating."

I understand the instinct to recoil at this violation of the letter of the law, but how many of us dislike it when a baserunner steals the catcher's signs? When someone ices a kicker/free throw shooter? When a player's free throw motion is specifically designed/altered to instigate lane violations? When soccer players delay more during stoppage time? When a QB throws a bomb with the primary purpose being to get a pass-interference call? All appear to not violate the letter of the relevant rule(s), but certainly violate the spirit of the game being played. I'm sure more examples could be listed.

Hell, the NBA has embraced this mentality full stop, and to a degree at least, can you blame them? Would any Hornets fans genuinely want to give up Anthony Davis and instead have the team try their hardest to ensure a season with more wins, but still end with no playoffs and without the draft position with which to begin rebuilding? The Celtics likely went further in the playoffs by resting guys (read: not caring if they lost) and losing home-court in the 1st round. They knew they would be playing Atlanta anyway, a team they knew they could beat, did beat, and they likely went further as a result. As a C's fan, I had no problem with this (other than worrying it would come back to bite them against Atlanta); the team I root for is super old, and needed to take advantage of that to have a chance later on.

I know everyone is aware of these examples (and others), but I tried to list several to make the point that the most popular sports in this country are filled with the type of logic these badminton players used. I get that the Olympics are a different animal, but if you like American sports and aren't a moralist about them of the highest order, I am not sure how one can be super up in arms about this. So, I put this more on the organizers than the players.

posted by brainofdtrain at 03:22 AM on August 02

But these players did, in fact, break the rules. They weren't trying to get an edge within the game, but by deliberately breaking the rules designed for fair play.

posted by bperk at 05:46 AM on August 02

The whole thing is a philosophical minefield. The Badminton Federation are at fault for setting up a competition format that facilitated, even encouraged, this behaviour; but the athletes are also at fault. They weren't easing up to save energy, they were deliberately trying to lose. For me, it all comes down to the oath you swear when you become an Olympian:

I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.

They abided by the rules, but they didn't do so in the true spirit of sportsmanship, they certainly didn't do anything for the glory of their sport, and they didn't honour their teams.

posted by JJ at 05:49 AM on August 02

The hard thing for me is that it appears that nearly all American fan's opinions are inconsistent with respect to athletes trying to find every competitive edge to win.

Perhaps because some of us don't respect that.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 07:15 AM on August 02

The Badminton Federation are at fault for setting up a competition format that facilitated, even encouraged, this behaviour;

I don't see that. If the objective of the tournament is to win the gold medal, then you are going to have to win every match of the medal elimination tournament. That means, at some point, you are going to have to beat every team you face in the elimination tournament.

If you don't think you can beat the #1 seed in the first round of the elimination tournament, maybe you shouldn't be in the damn tournament.

Under no circumstances is there any way that the rules would permit a team to deliberately lose a match. This wasn't a case of "not giving their all". This was "give up points as fast as possible" and "deliberately fail".

If you haven't seen the video of the disgrace, you really have no idea how bad it was.

The Celtics likely went further in the playoffs by resting guys (read: not caring if they lost) and losing home-court in the 1st round.

How about instead of resting the old guys, the Celtics started dunking the ball into their own net? What if Rondo, instead of passing the ball to a teammate, simply held on to the ball until the shot clock expired...every single play? Or when Allen went to shoot his free throws, he heaved the ball over the backboard on both throws?

Now imagine both teams doing that in a game.

That's the extent of the match-fixing the fans had to watch in the badminton.

posted by grum@work at 08:59 AM on August 02

Under no circumstances is there any way that the rules would permit a team to deliberately lose a match.

I think the point is that while the rules don't allow it, the format incentivized it and that incongruence is a problem. If an athlete gives their all and ends up with a worse result in the end, that's a poorly regulated event. These are new rules and they've entered a scenario where an athlete is caught between wanting to play fair and wanting their 4 years of training to end in a medal, even if it's not Gold.

I mean sure, ideally everyone in the Olympics thinks they're #1, but in reality they sure don't and there are often teams who might not be able to beat #1 and might be able to win a bronze medal. Do you think, for example, Spain wants to meet the U.S. in basketball in the quarters rather than the finals? I think not.

Luck of the draw is a killer sometimes, but this is worse, I think.

posted by dfleming at 09:49 AM on August 02

If the objective of the tournament is to win the gold medal, then you are going to have to win every match of the medal elimination tournament. That means, at some point, you are going to have to beat every team you face in the elimination tournament.

The Chinese team that dumped their match was doing it to keep from meeting the other Chinese team before the finals. It's not entirely unreasonable to see the Chinese effort as "I want to win gold, and secondary to that, I want my fellow Chinese players to win silver; dumping a game to ensure we do not meet until the finals will not hinder the first goal, and will increase the chances of the second goal."

Everyone else seemed to be domino-ing from the Chinese decision.

If you don't think you can beat the #1 seed in the first round of the elimination tournament, maybe you shouldn't be in the damn tournament.

But what if you think you'd be better off taking on the #1 seed after they've had a first-round match with someone else, while you've taken on an easier competitor?

Note: I am not excusing any of these teams. The level of dumping was so pathetic that the referees should have ended the games far earlier and then taken action against them for damage done to the sport. But on a strategic basis, they can't be faulted, and the organizers should face some level of scrutiny for just making a bad decision that led to worse decisions by players.

posted by Etrigan at 10:01 AM on August 02

the organizers should face some level of scrutiny for just making a bad decision that led to worse decisions by players.

But I don't understand what the organizers could have done in this case.

There is pool play to determine who makes the quarterfinals, as there are too many competitors for a single-elimination tournament. The results of the pool play determine the seeding for the quarterfinals. There aren't enough courts to facilitate simultaneous play, so I'm not sure what the organizers could have done to avoid this.

It wasn't like the organizers implemented bizarre tie-breaking rules, or an unusual playoff qualification system.

posted by grum@work at 10:44 AM on August 02

The Chinese team that dumped their match was doing it to keep from meeting the other Chinese team before the finals. It's not entirely unreasonable to see the Chinese effort as "I want to win gold, and secondary to that, I want my fellow Chinese players to win silver; dumping a game to ensure we do not meet until the finals will not hinder the first goal, and will increase the chances of the second goal."

Essentially, what we are talking about here is collusion between the teams, organized by the coach/team officials. Yeah, I'd toss them out on their ass for that.

So what excuse do the teams from the other nations have?

Nevertheless, the proper disqualification of the teams have left some lower seeded teams (like from my home country) in a unique position to win a medal in a sport they originally had no reasonable chance at winning.

posted by grum@work at 10:49 AM on August 02

I'm not inclined to go deep on the philosophical discussion on this. I will say that after seeing what happened in the 1972 men's basketball gold medal game, after seeing what happened to Roy Jones, Jr. in Seoul in 1988, and after digesting the past revelations that have been made about international figure skating judges, from my viewpoint, the Olympics are dangling from the end of a very short cumulative farce rope. The bullshit margin they have left to work with is minimal. This episode and the "we refuse to be real" commotion over the proposed commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Munich terrorist attack may push the spectacle beyond my tolerance threshold.

posted by beaverboard at 11:11 AM on August 02

If you don't think you can beat the #1 seed in the first round of the elimination tournament, maybe you shouldn't be in the damn tournament.

Perhaps, but that's missing the significance of the Olympics as the biggest stage for "minority" sports, which adds a promotional element that doesn't apply to standalone tournaments. There are per-country limits on the number of entrants, which broadens out the competition, and means some of the world's best competitors don't make the cut because their country is so strong in a particular event. In their place, you have slightly weaker teams, where the Olympics offers one chance every four years to build support and participation.

Sometimes the Olympic spotlight exposes weaknesses in a federation's standard operating procedures, such as the timekeeping of the women's fencing. I don't think this counts as one of those times. Whatever you think of the strategic value of "get a better QF draw", it doesn't match up to the strategic value of "don't take the piss out of your federation at the Olympics".

posted by etagloh at 11:48 AM on August 02

This episode and the "we refuse to be real" commotion over the proposed commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Munich terrorist attack may push the spectacle beyond my tolerance threshold.

Actually, the actions by the Olympics in response to the match-fixing should be considered a positive. If they had let those teams continue into the playoffs, it would have been much worse.

As for the lack of acknowledgement of the Munich terrorist attack 40 years ago, I don't seem to remember an acknowledgement of the Munich terrorist attack at the Barcelona Olympics (20 years after the attack). I'm not sure why there had to be some sort of tribute at these Olympics.

If the Olympics had been held in Germany or Isreal, then definitely.

They had a commemoration plaque and ceremony in before the Olympics started. There was also also a tribute to victims of terrorism during the opening ceremonies. Just because NBC didn't want to broadcast it, doesn't mean it didn't happen.

posted by grum@work at 12:18 PM on August 02

I'd also like to cite as a Good Thing the AIBA's decision to overturn the result in the men's boxing bantamweight match between Shimizu and Abdulhamidov. That was the only match I got to see yesterday, and the third round was an absolute travesty, with the commentators flat-out saying something to the effect of "This is why our sport is a laughingstock!"

posted by Etrigan at 12:43 PM on August 02

I saw a US boxer lose to a Russian boxer yesterday and the NBC commentators made a point to congratulate the judges on getting one right after getting so many wrong. Whatever my complaints about NBC, I'm happy to hear Teddy Atlas' take on boxing and the English language whenever possible.

posted by yerfatma at 01:04 PM on August 02

As for the lack of acknowledgement of the Munich terrorist attack 40 years ago, I don't seem to remember an acknowledgement of the Munich terrorist attack at the Barcelona Olympics (20 years after the attack). I'm not sure why there had to be some sort of tribute at these Olympics.

People have been trying to make it happen since 1976. The fact that there's now two and a half decades of disgraceful failure isn't a reason not to try to make it happen in London. It's not as if they can go back and retroactively create a tribute in Montreal.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 01:07 PM on August 02

Whatever my complaints about NBC, I'm happy to hear Teddy Atlas' take on boxing and the English language whenever possible.

I would watch the hell out of a week of The Daily Show With Teddy Atlas, especially if they did a lot of coverage of conflicts between Ajerzaiban and Kazgyrstan.

posted by Etrigan at 01:14 PM on August 02

Dying at the thought of it. Would be a 50%/ 50% chance he tried to pronounce them or just said, "What's the difference, over there somewhere."

posted by yerfatma at 03:14 PM on August 02

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