Badminton Federation Screws Up, Players Pay the Price

Several women’s badminton teams have been tossed out of the Olympics for deliberately trying to lose. Why? Because of a new tournament structure. They had already been guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals, so their only goal was to get themselves into the bottom half of the draw, where they wouldn’t have to meet the top-ranked team until the finals:

Even before the disqualifications, the matches Tuesday night triggered hand-wringing throughout the sport. This is the first Olympics to include preliminary rounds where four teams played one another once to determine who advanced to the knockout stage. All four pairs who played Tuesday night had won spots in the quarterfinals, so jockeying for an opponent —not winning or losing —was the imperative.

Because the Chinese so dominate the sport and are so numerous in the tournament, they have incentive not to play one another when possible. And because they are so good, teams from other countries do their best to avoid the Chinese until there is no choice.

Count me among those who blame the badminton federation at least as much as the players themselves. It’s idiocy to set up a knockout system in which it pays off to lose, especially when it’s pretty obvious that your system rewards strategic play. It’s like complaining about cricket teams deliberately slowing down to produce an inconclusive result, or basketball players trying to run out the clock. It’s all part of the game. If you don’t like it, don’t set up the rules to encourage it.