Mike Rowbottom: When losing to win means everyone loses
Wednesday, 01 August 2012
A very good question.
The Badminton World Federation, which imposed the bans after concluding disciplinary cases against the players for violations against its code of conduct in the matter of "not using one's best efforts to win" and "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport", clearly inclines towards the latter option.
The first errant match occurred between China's Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli and South Korea's Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, and it saw the Chinese pair booed off the court after a 21-14, 21-11 defeat which meant they avoided playing their compatriots Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei in their next match.
No rally in this match went beyond four shots.
"The Chinese started this," said South Korean coach Sung Han-kook. "They did not want to meet each other in the semi-final."
A subsequent game between South Korea and Indonesia, again won by the South Koreans, provoked similar activity – or lack of it - with the referee briefly disqualifying the players for lack of effort before relenting on his decision.
Once again the South Koreans, whether they wanted to or not, came away with a win.
The Chinese may have provided the most cogent answer to the question in announcing that they will not contest the decision; but both South Korea and Indonesia appealed unsuccessfully against it.
The question at the heart of this matter was re-stated here in the women's football competition, where it transpired that the Japanese side had been told by their coach, Norio Sasaki, not to win last night's match in Cardiff against South Africa – which finished goalless – because to do so would mean having to travel to Scotland for their quarter-final.
The result means the Japanese will now be able to remain in the Welsh capital.
But while the international badminton authority has come down hard on their players, the world football authority, FIFA, has said it will not be disciplining the Japanese team.
It may not surprise you to hear that we have been here before in world sport.
A similar turn of events, for instance, took place at the 2009 Asia Pacific Bowls Championships in Kuala Lumpur, where a New Zealand four skipped by Gary Lawson – who had earned himself the title of "the bad boy of New Zealand bowls" – were accused of throwing their last group game, against Thailand, in order to avoid meeting arch-rivals Australia in the next round.
In the wake of their defeat, Canada missed out on progressing – and duly asked Bowls New Zealand to investigate.
The New Zealand four had raised suspicions of misconduct in January of the previous year when, again skipped by Lawson, they were found to have deliberately dropped shots against Ireland, for which they received a reprimand.
A year on, the New Zealand authorities acted more decisively, fining the skip $NZ5000 (£2,600/$4,000/€3,300) and banning him for six months, and also fining the other team members $NZ1000 (£520/$800/€700) each.
After legal action the fines were rescinded, but the ban on Lawson – who accepted that the team's actions had been "contrary to the rules" – remained.
A similar incident took place in football at the 1982 World Cup finals, although on this occasion both teams – West Germany and Austria – benefited from apparent collusion in their final Group B qualifying match.
Because it was the last match in the group, each team knew exactly what was required to progress. A 1-0 win for the Germans, for instance, would suit both perfectly.
So when Horst Hrubesch put West Germany ahead after 10 minutes and the match then degenerated into a spectacle so feeble that the crowd were roused to boos and whistles – with one German fan setting fire to his national flag in protest – it seemed just a tad suspicious.
During the game, one German television commentator simply ceased commentating and allowed the "action" to progress in silence. Meanwhile one Austrian television commentator was suggesting to viewers that they might like to turn off, or turn over. Algeria, the team who missed out on qualification in the same group, protested to FIFA, but to no avail.
The Xinhua agency went on to point out that the players involved in the badminton controversy "did not break any rules", though they accepted that their behaviour had damaged "sportsmanship and ethics."
Part of this problem is the relatively simple one of how competitions are structured, and to this extent the responsibility for such outbreaks of distressing pragmatism lies with the organisers of the event.
In the badminton, it seems, the players were simply taking advantage of a newly introduced round-robin stage which offered scope for manoeuvring.
Here, it seems obvious, those responsible for determining the structure of the Olympic event need to change the format in the same way that FIFA acted in the wake of the 1982 World Cup finals to ensure that the last round of qualifying matches took place simultaneously henceforth.
It would be nice to think that such safeguards were unnecessary and that all those competing in the Olympics were automatically imbued with the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship in which their founding father, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, conceived them.
But history tells us this isn't what happens.
On this occasion the Badminton World Federation should be applauded for the principle of their action. FIFA's decision, by the same token, should be deplored – after all, were not the spectators at the Japan v South Africa cheated just as those watching the contentious badminton matches?
The viewing public have spent much money and many pains to get hold of London Olympics tickets, and they should expect a full and genuine return for every penny of their investment.
Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames.