Guilty of Racqueteering: Thoughts on the Olympic badminton tour-de-farce

Let's be clear on one thing: The last time I attempted to play badminton was in the backyard of the Tell household down the street about 10 years ago. It didn't go well then, and it probably wouldn't go well now. But one thing I was able to do was hit the shuttlecock over the net, maintain a decent rally, and play with some semblance of dignity.

Which is more than anyone can say for eight Olympic badminton players, who this week were disqualified from the games for putting on a spectacle that was, well, lacking in the spirit of competition. In a video that has since made rounds on the internet, Chinese and South Korean pairs throw down the gauntlet in a shuttlecock tour-de-farce like no other, intentionally serving into the net or over-hitting -- without seeming too bothered by it.

But the larger question remains. Is this so wrong? There are two viewpoints. On one side, you have the Olympics purists, those who truly believe in the Faster, Higher, Stronger motto. The Olympics are about pushing oneself to the heights of achievement, and doing so in a fair, uncynical manner. From this standpoint, although each of these disqualified pairs had already qualified for the tournament's elimination stage, they should have continued to play to their utmost capacity and maintain the integrity of Olympic competition.

If this all sounds idealistic, consider that idealism is exactly what the Olympics propagates, perhaps more than any other international sporting event. After all, aren't the games supposed to "bring the world together" in a confluence of peace, harmony and athletics every other year, in the heat of summer and the icy (occasionally manufactured) chill of winter?

But the opposition argument is perhaps a bit more pragmatic. If the goal of competition is to win the tournament, then perhaps intentionally losing a group stage match to ensure better competition in the knockout rounds isn't such a bad thing. After all, American audiences are used to the not-so-subtle process of intentional defeat. Rumors swirl around the bottom two or three NBA teams each season, who seem to be in the process of losing in order to "earn" a higher draft pick (I'm looking at you, Charlotte Bobcats). NFL teams pull their starters from late regular season games when they have no bearing on playoff qualification. MLB teams expand rosters in September, allowing some teams to abandon their quest for the postseason in favor of calling up prospects to prepare for the future while taking their licks in the present. All of these are some form of institutionalized -- and at least tacitly accepted -- losing. So how is this latest Olympic "scandal" any different? (On a TV culture note, this reminds be of the fantastic South Park episode where both little league baseball teams continue to try and lose so they don't have to play any longer and jeopardize their summer)

I think that the main concern here is that it feels so wrong and appears to be so blatant and unapologetic The Olympics are not the NFL regular season, September baseball, or April basketball. The Olympics are a once-every-four-years moment that a city breaks its back -- and bank account -- to host, athletes devote their lives to qualifying for, and citizens pay exorbitant fees to attend. So imagine yourself sitting in an arena at the only Olympic event you could score tickets for, dropping a considerable chunk of change along the way, and then seeing supposedly world-class badminton players serving worse than you do at a Fourth of July barbecue. I'd be mad, too.

Disqualification may not seem to be the most fair punishment. But while extreme, federation rules are federation rules, and in an age when doping and steroids are all-too-prevalent in damning headlines around international sport, other forms of competitive integrity need to be vigilantly guarded. 

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