Eight Olympic badminton athletes have been thrown out of the London Games after being charged by the Badminton World Federation with "not using one's best efforts to win a match" — which is against the rules of the sport. Because even some journalists may have forgotten badminton's rules, it seemed time to take a fresh look.
Ah, Sections 4.5 and 4.16 of the Badminton World Federation players' code. Much like the debate over whether to use the French or English translation of U.N. Resolution 242, or the meaning of the comma in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, the nuances of these two clauses will surely be debated in the academy for years to come ... well, in badminton academies, at least.
The sections stipulate that a player employ "one's best efforts to win a match" and bans "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport." That's great as far as that goes, but there is no definition of the terms.
Most paid spectators at Tuesday's badminton women's doubles matches played Potter Stewart, knowing "detrimental" when they saw "detrimental" — as four pairs of players clearly tried to throw matches in order to influence their draws in the tournament's quarterfinals.
The BBC regarded such tactics as an all-out assault on what is good and holy about swatting an apparatus fashioned from the left wing of a goose.
"I'm sorry, it's blindly obvious what's going on. It's as if neither player wants to win the match. There's a simple answer: Tell both players, if you don't play properly, you're both thrown out of the tournament," intoned the BBC's announcer at Wembley Arena.
"Tonight has left me with a very nasty taste in the mouth," he added. "What I have seen tonight is not sport; it is a disgrace."
But it is sport. Manipulating the seeding or draws in tournaments has a long tradition in sport. And in the early rounds of track or swimming competitions, athletes who know they've qualified for later rounds will routinely not push to win a heat.
Isn't easing up in the final few meters and ceding the tape, or the wall, "not trying to win?"
In the NBA, teams routinely lose games in order to improve their position in the draft. Acknowledgement of this reality did not just leave NBA Commissioner David Stern with a bitter taste in his mouth; it put an idea in his head. And today, the NBA has a lottery to determine draft selection.
That the draft lottery hasn't curbed the scourge of tanking doesn't change the fact that playing not to win is endemic to sport. There might be more at play in the case of badminton because Team China seems to be at the center of such tactics.
Badzine, which calls itself the World's #1 Badminton Magazine, and I can offer no counterclaims, published findings that show that in international competition, the Chinese frequently tank quite explicitly by claiming injury or simply forfeiting matches whenever Chinese players are pitted against each other.
If the Olympic badminton players could be faulted for anything, it's for not throwing their matches better.
Sending endless serves out of bounds and hitting returns into the net — that's no way to tank. Points must be played aboveboard, until the critical moment when a shot goes awry. The players should have strained and gasped, and inspected their racquets for holes after misplays.
Then the fans would have gotten a good enough show, and the BBC's broadcast team would have been left with a much more pleasant taste.