The Un-Olympic Spirit: Eight Badminton Players Disqualified After Attempting to Throw Their Matches

The Badminton World Federation has ruled to disqualify four women's doubles teams amid accusations of manipulating the tournament.

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Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters

Officials speaking to players from China and South Korea (from left: South Korea's Kim Ha-na, Jung Kyung-eun, China's Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli) during their women's doubles group stage badminton matches during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Wembley Arena on July 31, 2012.

Excited crowds have greeted most Olympic matches at London 2012 with cheers. But the badminton match between China’s Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang and South Korea’s Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na on Tuesday night drew nothing but boos and hisses.

Each team racked up extensive errors throughout the match, either serving the birdie directly into the net or swatting it way out of bounds. Spectators became piqued as they began to suspect the mistakes were intentional, and the referee stopped the game to lecture the players. “They’re serving fault after fault,” said an outraged BBC commentator. “They’re serving them straight into the net. I’m sorry, it’s blindingly obvious what’s going on.”

Officials accused the teams of trying to manipulate the tournament by throwing their matches in order to score more favorable draws in the next round.  Since badminton is played as a round-robin tournament, rather than a knockout format, losing a match could lead to playing a weaker team in the next round. Ultimately, such sloppy performances could have boosted the team’s chances of making it to the finals.

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The winners of Tuesday’s match would have gone up against China’s Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei in the quarterfinals. The Chinese teams allegedly did not want to face each other until the finals.

“The Chinese started this,” South Korea’s coach Sung Han-kook told the BBC. “They did it first. It’s a complicated thing with the draws. They didn’t want to meet each other in the semi-final. They don’t want that to happen.”

In a hearing on Wednesday morning, the Badminton World Federation disqualified the teams — as well as South Korea’s Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min Jung and Indonesia’s Greysia Poli and Meiliana Jauhari — over accusations of “not using [their] best efforts to win a match.” They were also accused of “conducting [themselves] in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”

A statement from the BWF said that the Indonesian and South Korean teams were intending to fight the decision, but after officials rejected South Korea’s appeal, Indonesia withdrew their own. Many officials have already welcomed the ruling. The International Olympic Committee’s vice president Craig Reedie told the Associated Press, “Sport is competitive. If you lose the competitive element, then the whole thing becomes a nonsense.”