LONDON – Eight badminton players could be disciplined for their sub-par Olympic effort after embarrassing scenes Tuesday saw them appear to deliberately throw their matches.
Angry fans at Wembley Arena booed and jeered once it became clear that No.1 seed Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China and Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na of South Korea were trying to purposefully lose their contest in the final round of the group stage in order to obtain an easier draw in the next round.
Both teams, along with a second doubles team from South Korea and one from Indonesia have all been charged by the Badminton World Federation with "not using one's best efforts to win a match," according to the BBC.
If the Olympics are supposed to be about the pursuit of excellence and honesty, this was anything but, especially the duo of Wang and Yu which looked to be making no attempt whatsoever to win. Serves were skewed wide on purpose. Shots were allowed to drop to the floor with little effort to retrieve them.
The best team in the world performed worse than a pair of rank amateurs and cast shame on their sport in the process. Tennis legend John McEnroe, working as an analyst for the BBC, was utterly incredulous.
"They need to change this now," McEnroe said. "People who are watching the badminton right now will be turning off in droves and losing even more interest."
Badminton officials had already come under fire for adopting a group system for this event instead of single elimination as in previous Games. Given Tuesday's saga, it is unthinkable that group play will be retained.
The sorry situation came about for two reasons: both the Wang-Yu pairing and the Jung-Kim duo had already qualified for the quarterfinal after winning their first two group games and the second-ranked Chinese pairing of Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei had already been upset by a team from Denmark. The winner of the China vs. South Korea match knew they would earn the dubious honor of facing Tian and Zhao, offering the genuine advantage of an easier draw for losing on purpose.
At one point in the first set there was the ludicrous sight of three straight fault serves being committed, unthinkable for teams of this caliber. Match referee Thorsten Berg took the step of striding furiously onto the court and issuing a formal warning to both teams.
From that point on, an improved effort seemed to have been made, although the South Koreans went on to win 21-14, 21-11.
As the players slapped hands – just as halfheartedly as their efforts on the court – the jeers from an unsatisfied crowd rained down on them and continued as all four players walked off the court. The Chinese pair tried to explain that their lackluster performance was because they were trying to save energy. No one was buying it.
"The Chinese had already started this," said Korean coach Sung Han-kook. "They did it first. It is a complicated thing with the draws. They didn't want to meet each other in the semifinal. The [Badminton World Federation] should do something about it."
Later in the session, South Korea's Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung also appeared to be trying to throw a game against Indonesian opposition, but following a warning of expulsion from the referee began to concentrate properly and clinched a three-set victory.
Table tennis abandoned its group format after the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and now uses the single-elimination method. The same can be expected from badminton by the time the 2016 Games roll around in Rio.
A badminton magazine recently revealed that of the 99 matches that Chinese players or pairs were due to play against each other in international tournaments in 2011, 20 were walkovers.
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