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.