The Olympics Spirit (BADminton edition)

For those who don’t know, and that may be a lot of you given NBC’s atrocious coverage, eight badminton players were kicked out of the Olympics for “match-fixing.” It did not involve bribery or anything of that nature, and the players did everything that is within the rules, but they did try to lose on purpose to get the seeding they wanted (video here).

Unless I am mistaken, it is allowed to suck in sports (please look no further than the school eight miles down*), and as for intentionally sucking? People do it all the time.

Every year right before the massive sixteen teams playoff, there are NBA teams that wonder whether losing on purpose would give them an edge in seeding**. Professional teams in the NBA, NFL, and MLB all rest starters after realizing they are playoff-bound, and from a more personal experience, I once “guarded” Brian Zoubek in a game of basketball, and I am pretty sure he intentionally sucked to make me feel better because at one point, I somehow ended up with the ball.

In the Olympics, favored swimmers never go all out in the preliminary heat to save energy, and in this year’s Tour de France, Wiggins slowed himself down to let his teammate win a stage in the technically individual event.

Of course, there are other “negative tanking” examples in this year’s Olympics: Makhloufi from Algeria, who claimed he was hurt during an 800 meter heat, used his fresh hurt legs the next day to blow away the field in the 1500 run. He was originally expelled from the Olympics, but fortunately for him, he was able to find one doctor that says he knee was hurting. Also, the Japanese women’s soccer coach openly admitted that he instructed his team to tie South Africa so they can play in a more favorable location.

Some of these are considered acceptable (Wiggins was actually praised, and I appreciate Zoubek for letting me touch the ball), and some, not so much. So why are people so angry with these badminton players? And Makhloufi?

Because they took intentional losing to a whole new level? Because the fans who paid to go did not get to see what they wanted? Because it violated the sacred Olympics spirit? Because it was unethical?

They were just trying to win the gold medal while staying within the rules. Yeah, it was ugly, but the Chinese didn’t want to play the only other Chinese group so they can both medal, which is usually the case when it comes to badminton. As for Makholoufi, he just wanted to make sure he brings back the fifth gold medal in Algeria history. It wasn’t within the Olympics spirit, but it didn’t warrant being kicked out of the competition, it certainly wasn’t as offensive as the tweets (see here and here).

It can probably be argued that the badminton players had an obligation to make sure the fans get what they wanted, but by the same logic, they also have the same obligation to their country to try their best to win the gold. Yes, sports are all about trying your best in the events, but they are also about using strategies (AKA, smart ways to win within the rules).

So was it ethical for the badminton players to throw away matches like that? Probably not, but I also don’t think what they did was so unethical that they deserved to be expelled from the Olympics. Though I do think Makholoufi should get kicked out for lying, I do not think he should had been expelled in the first place for stopping in the race.

People may disagree, but we can all at least agree that NBC really should do better.



*just kidding, Tar Heels, looking forward to another great rivalry year

** losing on purpose in basketball would be really comical if both teams tried – imagine flipping the court and many, many, fouls. I wonder which team would be the best at losing.