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Olympic badminton scandal serious business for the sport, comedy for everyone else

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

LONDON – The news conference was packed, stuffed with nearly 20 cameras and scores of reporters, all of whom went silent when the secretary general of the Badminton World Federation took a seat behind a microphone.

So let's start there. Badminton doesn't just have a "world federation," it has a world federation with a "secretary general." He even wears a sharp dark blazer with a BWF logo.

If badminton took itself any more seriously, it might invade table tennis.

Thomas Lund is that secretary general. He hails from Denmark and seems like a thoughtful guy. He was there to announce the final verdict on one of the scandals of these Olympics.

No, not that badminton is an Olympic sport in the first place – although Lund was later asked to defend that, too. And, no, the scandal isn't that the United States never won a medal in this sport even though most Americans have smacked a birdie ("shuttlecock" in official parlance) over a backyard net a few times in their life – at least against their niece, sometimes even when they were sober.

[ Photos: Eight badminton players disqualified ]

Instead, this was about Tuesday's end-of-pool play where in successive games two opposing women's doubles teams lined up against each other and tried to lose. It appeared they were trying to secure a more favorable draw in knockout play or, in the case of a Chinese team, to avoid playing their fellow countrymen until the finals.

Either way the game of badminton, which again we repeat is the game of badminton, was a farce. Go figure.

The first match featured a team from South Korea and one from China. Then another South Korean team took on some Indonesians. The Koreans won both times. So you could say they were the losers at losing.

Either way badminton was rocked by a game-throwing contest.

And it wasn't even the plot of a Will Ferrell movie.

"They were hitting it right into the net in the serve," said David Mercer, who broadcast both games for the BBC. "Sometime they'd try to hit shuttles way out of bounds. And then when shuttles were clearly going out, others were getting to it to make sure they didn't get out. You just couldn't believe what you were seeing.

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Clockwise from top left: China's Wang Xiaoli (L) and Yang Yu, South Korea's Jung Kyung Eun (Top) and Kim Ha Na, Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari and South Korea's Ha Jung-eun (L) and Kim Min-jung. (Reuters)

Clockwise from top left: China's Wang Xiaoli (L) and Yang Yu, South Korea's Jung Kyung-eun (top) and Kim Ha-na, …

"I said it on air," Mercer continued. "In 30 years of sports broadcasting I've never seen a more outrageous example of players not trying, except trying to lose. When you get about six points in a row and the serve goes right into the net and you're talking about world-class players, you figure it out pretty quick."

So, by the way, what's it like trying to broadcast a game in which both sides are trying to lose?

"It was an interesting experience," Mercer said. "Put it that way."

The BWF did not consider it interesting. Federation officials were aghast, and even though it isn't uncommon in sports for teams to attempt to manipulate results in pool play to set up the best possible route in a playoff, the BWF took this offense like someone had called the shuttlecock a birdie.

[ Related: Worst match in badminton history ]

An elaborate disciplinary machine was churned up, and eventually all eight athletes were thrown out of the competition, which inspired frustration, outrage, finger pointing, and one of the most enduring parts of Olympic competition: nationalistic indignation.

The Chinese, to their credit, declined to even appeal. Yeah, they did it. Indonesia did at first, but eventually they sheepishly pulled the argument and conceded the point.

That left South Korea in the awkward position of saying that while it appeared they were trying to lose on purpose, the truth is their players were just terrible.

Now that's the Olympic spirit.

Which brings us to this massive news conference, all these cameras and notebooks and questions. Lund declared that the appeal wasn't merely denied, but denied without even being considered. Take that, South Korea. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pretended to reconsider Jonathan Vilma's suspension.

Teams from Russia, Australia, Canada, and South Africa – all of whom had previously thought they were eliminated because they had lost while trying to win – now had another chance to win because someone they previously lost to later tried to lose to someone else.

Who is the name of the first baseman?

Lund patiently and effectively explained the elaborate rules, procedures, and then the rules of the procedures. He made the BWF sound suspiciously like the NCAA.

"We have to take this process very, very seriously," Lund said.

Did we mention this was about badminton?

Lund soon opened the floor to questions. He was hit with a blistering assault from the badminton media, who pointed to a system that encourages game throwing. Reporters mentioned that there's a history of this behavior in other tournaments and called on Lund to defend why badminton is even allowed in the Olympics.

"I could provide a long list," Lund answered, though he didn't provide that list.

[ Related: 'American Idol' champ gets boost from Olympic gymnastics ]

In truth badminton is one hellacious game played by real athletes, at least when they are trying to win and not lose. Then again, if horseshoes aren't in the Olympics, I'm not sure how strong the case for inclusion really is.

"Everyone is obliged to play their best when they take the court," Lund declared.

He clearly doesn't watch the NBA regular season.

"You can't throw some matches to win other matches," Lund said later.

Wait, how else do you move up in the NBA draft?

It was nearly an hour of questions reigning down from nearly a dozen countries, details getting hashed over, and reporters trying to trip up Lund. No shot. A Korean coach walked out. There was much head shaking, disappointment, and general consternation at the badminton hall.

And then Lund was hammered with this direct assault:

"Are you personally embarrassed it was the sport of badminton that besmirched the ideals of the Olympics?"

Lund had to pause to answer that one. Uneasy lies the head that wears a secretary general's badminton blazer.

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