In Which We Spend Our Time Talking About Badminton

As you can tell, the selection and quality of photos has gone down since I started using open-source photos. Photo credit: Hervé Boulben

As you could probably tell from my previous entry about Olympic gymnasts last week, I don’t really get into the Olympics. Granted, it’s nice to have fresh content on ESPN.com every 15 minutes, but aside from checking the homepage for big updates, I haven’t watched a single second of the Olympics. Oh, and I used an app to learn that my body type matches that of a female Olympic rower. Score!

However, I understand that a lot of people really get into the Games, and so when my friend Bryce notified me of the badminton controversy that happened today, I was eager to bring it up as a conversation piece on the blog.

The situation was that a few female Olympic badminton teams intentionally lost their matches so that their subsequent matches would be easier. For this they were disqualified and asked to leave the Olympic campus.

So, the two questions are:

1. Should they have been disqualified?

2. Should the Olympic committee change their rules to allow for this sort of behavior?

The answer to the first question is easy, in my opinion: Yes.

The rules clearly state that players must “use one’s best efforts to win the match” Yet the players didn’t do that,  and sothey should be disqualified. Even if a rule sucks in sports, you have to follow it. There are silly rules in every sport. But you opt into those rules when you play those sports.

I’ve heard some people say that the players were justified in their actions because they were trying to win the tournament. But the rules don’t say, “You must attempt to win the tournament to the best of your ability.” They say “match.” The players blatantly disregarded that message, and so the Olympic committee was correct in disqualifying them.

Should the Olympic committee change the rules (and the badminton tournament structure)? Absolutely. It’s not the place of an organizing body to decide how players should act on the field. It’s like if FIFA, after seeing how beautifully the Spanish national team has played over the last few years, started mandating that all teams must complete at least 95% of their passes or they will be disqualified.

Speaking of soccer, in the final game of the first round-robin round of the World Cup, the two teams playing sometimes know that they don’t have to play hard to advance. Sometimes both teams know they need a tie, so there have been a few times when the teams have just passed the ball around for 90 minutes. FIFA allows this. It’s annoying, and of course the fans aren’t happy (especially when you’re representing your entire country, what does playing for a tie mean to that country). But it’s allowed.

Rather than deciding how players should play badminton, the role of the Olympic committee should be to structure the tournament so that teams aren’t incentivized to lose. I don’t understand why it’s set up so you have an easier path to victory if you lose the first match.

That said, it’s equally bewildering to me that a team would associating losing with increasing their chances of winning. Look at the NFL. Every year, a few teams coast into the playoffs. They rest their starters the final game or two of the season, and more and more we’re seeing those teams lose in the playoffs. They lose their forward momentum, and they lose that priceless time on the field to perfect their game. We even saw the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series last year after fighting until the very last day of the season. These players are human, and the more you can get them amped up about the game, the better they’re going to play.

So, conclusion: The rule should be changed, but this year those players should be disqualified.

What do you think? Should they have been disqualified? Should the rules/tournament structure change? Would you ever intentionally lose (or tie) when playing a sport, especially if you were representing your country?