Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Olympic Badminton Becomes a Farce

In an event which will surely have repercussions for future Olympic games, 8 female badminton players were disqualified for what has been called "match fixing" by attempting to purposefully lose games. The teams doing so were highly skilled, medal contending teams from China, South Korea and Indonesia, who attempted to manipulate the draw of a round robin style tournament by throwing a match so that they would face weaker teams in subsequent rounds.

Im here to tell you that the only thing disgraceful about the entire situation is the structure of this badminton tournament - not the players actions. As the great Jets coach Herman Edwards said, "You play to win the game. You play to win the game. Thats the greatest thing about sports. You play to win." In the Olympics, winning the game means winning a medal for your country, and players should do everything in their power to accomplish that task - as long as it does not violate the rules of The Games.

The badminton players werent accused of breaking any specific rules. They simply "violated the spirit of the Olympics," which couldnt possibly be a bigger load of bullshit. These players all wanted to win a medal, they and their coaches looked at the structure of the tournament, applied basic game theory and deduced an exploit. It just so happened that the people who designed the tournament dont understand game theory, and were appalled at the admittedly "unpretty" results - world class players serving into the net repeatedly.

Blaming the badminton players for playing the tournament metagame perfectly is like criticizing a poker player for lying about the strength of their hand, bemoaning a pool hustler for giving away a shot, or chastising a baseball player for stealing second base. "Hey! That wasnt very nice!" To people who dont really understand how competitive sports and games work, it might seem unsportsmanlike and somehow crude, when in reality, such plays are the epitome of the competitive spirit - the definition of playing to win. You work to get the odds in your favor and you crush the opposition.

It isnt the 8 female players who should be disqualified from the Olympics - its the people who changed the tournament structure from single elimination to a structure which could be gamed for an advantage who should be disqualified from ever overseeing any competitive event ever again. You play to win the game. It is the tournament organizers and the IOC who are a disgrace to the Olympic spirit in disqualifying these players - not the players themselves.


Bond said...

Wow that's pretty bad. I guess if they tried harder to lose they wouldn't have been disqualified.

umo said...

There's a section in the (Badminton) Code of Conduct that states players can be penalised for

“not using one’s best efforts to win a match”

The match takes precedence over the tournament there, so it is a breach of that.

The format is a bad change but this is the Olympics, if you are seriously going to do that (watch the video Bond to see how blatant it was) in the manner they did you deserve to be kicked out.

There are tactical things like not trying to score and so running down the shot clock/time left in basketball/NFL etc. Those are fine as they are part of trying to win the match.

Even what Japan Womens Football team did, which was try to draw their final group game rather than score and win it, to avoid having to move base camp 300 miles for the next game they said. That is still on the side of okay just about, but if they had started scoring own goals to achieve a draw then they should have been thrown out too.

What the badminton players did was clearly influenced by their coaches and was not a novel idea from any of them, since some ppl warned it would likely happen to some degree.

Chronic said...

Bender I agree the matches were horrific to watch and a disgrace to the games, but I cannot find fault with the players or coaches for a trying to game a system which is so poorly designed.

Its one thing to penalize the players for poor effort, its another to disqualify the #1 team in the world from the event they are the gold medal favorite in based on a subjective opinion of "effort." It makes the rest of the tournament a completely mockery of a sham. They might as well have cancelled the entire event.

Whats even worse is that the South Korean team WON the match vs China, and yet they were disqualified as well!? How can that possibly be the correct ruling? Didnt they try harder to win? Did they not try as hard to lose?

Im also not sure how what the Japanese womens soccer team did was any different - they didnt play to win the game, they played to win a medal. The only difference is that you cant draw in badminton.

Finally, its not as though this was ONE team and an isolated incident. When a tactic is blatantly practiced by 4 different teams from 3 different nations, you have to question the legitimacy of the structure of tournament, not the players who by any reasonable definition are trying to win it.

Countries should only be allowed two badminton teams to be entered into a single elimination tournament, and the teams MUST be seeded on the opposite sides of the draw, so that the only way they could possibly meet is in a medal match. The only time a team is given a second chance is for the two teams who dont win their semi finals - they get to play another match for the bronze medal.

I understand that single elimination tournaments offer a higher degree of variance than double or triple elimination, but its the only way to ensure the integrity of the game. If the organizers want to reduce the variance for soccer or badminton or any other sport or game, they can have teams play best of 3 matches to decide who is eliminated, or best of 5 or 7.

Any other type of structure is open to exploits by the players and coaches, and the incredibly difficult and subjective decision as to whether one team was "trying harder" than the other. How can you possibly leave the outcome of a competitive sport or game open to a subjective interpretation?

umo said...

To win overall you need to beat the other best teams eventually or face teams that beat them, so the fine tuning of the draw aspect isn't really a useful tactic that guarantees anything.

It's quite a difference in football because the draw is a result that you start with. When you have 30 mins to go do you risk trying to go for a win and leave yourself opening to concede a goal and lose, or try and maintain the result that you have? (Still a risk)

Japan still had 16 shots, they didn't just sit there passing it around for 90 mins, from what I read of the quote it sounded like he sent on substitutes telling them to hold for a draw. Getting a point from a draw is still 'winning' in football as opposed to a defeat. In Badminton every time you don't actively win a point you lose one, so you can't hold on to what you have unless the rally goes on forever.

So it makes sense that football is run as a full league normally compared to badminton as a knockout sport.

The Olympic setting is not to be ignored in this, going by that Badminton code breach of not making best efforts means the world sees deliberate flouting of the rules and the image of the sport is hugely important with this being the biggest audience it gets in any 4 year period.

This whole debate though is missing the real shocking sport format of the games, the Judo.

You can wait 4 years and then in one second of your first match get thrown by an ippon move and your Games are over. Single elimination tourney with a potential one move vitory.

It just seems so harsh that there's an instant game over, no continues.