Badminton Players Kicked Out For Losing On Purpose

Eight women badminton players have been disqualified for throwing games at the Olympics. Organizers worried that the athletes' actions would reflect poorly on the games. Fans said they were pleased with the disqualifications.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. In London today, eight badminton players were disqualified from the Olympics. Their offense? Not doing their best to win. The disgraced group includes the world doubles champions who were favored to medal in the games. They're from China. The other athletes are from South Korea and Indonesia. As NPR's Howard Berkes reports, the whole episode began when players seemed to be trying to lose.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: Last night at the Wembley Arena, the crowd concluded right away that the Indonesian and South Korean badminton players were throwing the match, competing to lose, by simply tapping the shuttlecock or deliberately hitting it out of bounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADMINTON MATCH)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Game.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

BERKES: This happened in several women's double matches, even after players were warned. Olympic officials are unhappy about it as well. Former Olympian Sebastian Coe, who heads the London Olympic Organising Committee, was asked what he thought.

SEBASTIAN COE: Yeah. Depressing. I mean, who wants to sit through something like that? It is unacceptable.

BERKES: Trying to lose sounds counterintuitive, but new rules for the Olympic tournament involves pool play. It's possible to lose but still stay in the tournament. The disqualified players were apparently losing strategically. Throwing the match is a way of picking opponents who might be easier to beat. The International Olympic Committee is also concerned, says spokesman Mark Adams.

MARK ADAMS: They have a clause in their rules that players must make their best efforts, and we would applaud that. Clearly, that's what people come here to see. In the first instance, it's for the sport, for badminton to decide.

BERKES: The Badminton World Federation responded quickly. Disqualifications at this point in the tournament mean that players eliminated earlier would be back in the Olympics as early as today. The federation cited the rule that says players must use their best efforts to win and another prohibiting behavior that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport. In announcing the decision, federation chief Thomas Lund defended the new pool play format that seems to encourage deliberate losses.

THOMAS LUND: The group plays generally has been a tremendous success for this tournament. It's created really good matches that we've never seen before. But we also have to be clear that there has been a problem here. We need to take that problem very seriously. But we have no further comment to - on speculations, what to do, other than we'll look into it.

BERKES: This isn't the only time the badminton federation misfired while supposedly trying to inject more excitement into a sport that is sometimes dismissed as backyard picnic play. Last year, the federation imposed a dress code for women athletes: skirts or dresses instead of shorts or pants. The move was widely viewed as sexist and withdrawn. The disqualified Indonesian players were not told to lose, says Erick Thohir of the Indonesian badminton team, but they may have been allowed to strategically lose before by the Badminton World Federation or BWF.

ERICK THOHIR: To blame China is also not fair. I think that BWF should take a look in history of tournaments in the last one, two years before they make judgments. And also, before judgment, there should be investigations.

BERKES: Olympic spectators we spoke with today approved of the move against the badminton players. Trying your worst just doesn't go over with people out to see the best in the world. Susan Fassioli of Miami was watching the tennis competition.

SUSAN FASSIOLI: I think it's against the Olympic spirit, and it's bad sportsmanship, you know, coming here to the Olympics and not trying to win a match is ridiculous.

BERKES: None of that was reported today at Wembley Arena as badminton play continued. Right or wrong, the message is out. Deliberately losing, even for strategic purposes, could get you tossed from the games. Howard Berkes, NPR News, London.

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