Grey areas en route to gold
By Larry Ryan
This appears to lie in that murky grey area somewhere between sporting expediency and downright cheating
Fingers crossed, touch wood and steady as she goes but these Olympic Games have mercifully, so far, been relatively free of failed drugs tests, devoid of bribery scandals and even comparatively lacking in officiating errors. As I said, so far.
Yet all is still not well in the pursuit of Olympic ideals over in London, at least depending on your viewpoint. There has been moral outrage in some quarters this week at the eight badminton players disqualified from the women’s doubles after being accused of “not using one’s best efforts to win”.
Two pairs from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia made a series of deliberate basic errors in their preliminary matches last Tuesday and were accused of wanting to lose in an attempt to manipulate the draw for the knockout stages.
The transparent nature of their efforts to lose and thereby avoid compatriots in the first knockout round involved double-faulting into the net on service and sending simple shots wide and quickly drew the opprobrium of spectators and officials alike.
Ticket holders at Wembley Arena could feel rightly aggrieved they were being short-changed and entitled to their boos but should they have been directed at the tournament organisers rather the players themselves?
“The rules say you have to win every match, and that doesn’t mean you throw some matches and win other matches,” said Thomas Lund, the secretary general for the sport’s governing body, the Badminton World Federation.
Yet perhaps the blame should lie at the feet of his organisation for introducing the round-robin stage of the tournament and not foreseeing the potential for such an outcome within their rules.
As obvious as those dodgy serves appeared, this is not as black and white an issue as a bowler in cricket deliberately bowling no balls to satisfy gambling syndicates and bookmakers were quick to state there had been no irregular betting patterns ahead of the badminton matches this week. Nor is it as clear-cut as a positive urine or blood sample in a sports doping laboratory.
This appears to lie in that murky grey area somewhere between sporting expediency and downright cheating and it is not a lone incident, even at these Games.
On the very same day badminton got its shuttlecocks in a twist, Japan women’s soccer coach Norio Sasaki was admitting he ordered his players not to score in their final group game against South Africa. The game ended in a scoreless draw, meaning the Japanese avoided a trip to Glasgow. This should not be seen as an insult on proud Scots everywhere, Team GB men’s soccer coach Stuart Pearce has that department covered thanks to his omission from the Olympic squad of any player born north of Hadrian’s Wall.
Instead, the Japanese merely wanted to avoid moving from their current base in Cardiff. Beating South Africa would have sent them to Glasgow, drawing with them kept them in the Welsh capital for yesterday’s quarter-final against Brazil.
“I feel sorry we couldn’t show a respectable game,” coach Sasaki said, “but it’s my responsibility, not the players, why the game was like that. It was important for us not to move to Glasgow.”
Again, was that cheating or merely cynically exploiting the rules set before players and coaches?
Remember that 1982 World Cup group game in Spain when Austria were happy to play out a 1-0 defeat to Germany? The Germans went ahead early and both teams shut up shop to ensure they both qualified at the expense of pool rivals Algeria in a cynical non-aggression pact that has become known in north African soccer circles as the “Anschluss”.
That black day for the beautiful game resulted in a change in the World Cup format with Fifa switching final group games to kick-off simultaneously so as to avoid further outbreaks of manipulation.
The badminton players were just as clear in their intentions and the resulting kerfuffle may well result in a reappraisal of the BWF’s structuring of future tournaments.
It is the least they could do to save athletes from walking the tightrope between morality and expediency.
* Larry Ryan is away this week.
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