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Rachel Lu

Why History May Be on Disgraced Badminton Players' Side

Top-seeded Yu Yang abruptly quit the sport, tweeting a bitter farewell

Badminton is on fire, and it’s not from backyard barbecues. Strong reactions and sharp words reverberated on China’s microblogs from the decision by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to expel eight pairs of female players, including one pair of Chinese players, from the Olympics for deliberately throwing matches. (See here for a summary of why the players tried to lose.) 

Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, the disqualified pair from China, formed the top-seeded team in female doubles badminton. The heartbroken Yu (@于洋) abruptly quit the sport with a tweet on Tencent Weibo, a microblog platform: “This is my last match. Goodbye BWF, goodbye my most beloved badminton.” {{1}}[[1]]这也是我最后一次比赛了。再见国际羽联,再见我挚爱的羽毛球。[[1]] Yu goes on to defend her actions as a way to protect herself against possible injuries, but commentators have noted that throwing the particular match helped two Chinese teams to advance into different groups and maximizes the chance of taking both the gold and silver medals for China in this event. 

A Weibo poll showing two-thirds of netizens supported the use of "strategy"

Chinese netizens are sharply divided over this controversy. In an online poll on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, 67% of more than 15,000 respondents support the use of strategy as “blameless” while the rest believes that throwing the match contravenes the Olympic spirit. 

History on their side?

But there are a number of historical precedents on the disgraced Olympians’ side. Many netizens mention a story that every elementary school pupil in China knows. In a high-stake three-round horse race that took place circa 300 B.C., a famous military strategist threw the first round by placing his slowest horse against the opponent’s fastest, then he placed his fastest against the opponent’s second-fastest and his second-fastest against the opponent’s slowest, thus ensuring a 2-1 overall win. This story has been celebrated in China for more than 2,000 years as an example of cunning strategic planning for ultimate victory. 

Strategic planning is nothing new

@晚风扬起 quotes Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s reforms to justify the act. “The sports bureau and the media always say to win more gold medal and bring glory to the country. Don’t forget, ‘It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, it is a good cat if it catches the mouse.’ The athletes and the coaches have done nothing wrong!” {{2}}[[2]]体育总局和舆论的导向一直是就是多拿金牌,为国争光。别忘记一句话:“无论白猫和黑猫,抓住老鼠就是好猫”。运动员和教练团队没有错![[2]]

Others look to British sports history and cite the tale of Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell, who threw a heat with France in the 1948 London Olympics in order to ensure their best chance of winning the gold in double sculls. Bert and Dickie were portrayed in “an uplifting, warm-hearted and celebratory story” produced by BBC in July. The New York Times also brought up the incident of the Japanese women’s soccer team, who intentionally tied an Olympic match on Tuesday.  

Blame the rules, not the athletes

The BWF and the makers of the new regulations in badminton competitions suffered the brunt of netizens’ anger. @格物芷溪 vents, “I think it’s really a shame, but it’s a shame for the BWF and not for the athletes. What a great shame to make the athletes pay for imperfect rules.” {{3}}[[3]]我觉得这真是耻辱,只不过是世羽联的耻辱,而不是运动员的耻辱。自己定的规则不完善却让运动员去承担错误,真是天大的耻辱。[[3]] @苏格拉底是只鱼 agrees, “Winning means being stupid, and losing means advancing to the finals. How would you choose if it were you? Strong badminton teams from Asia are obviously stifled [by the new rules] in this Olympics. What else can we say if we can’t curse?” {{4}}[[4]]赢了就是傻子,输了才能进决赛。换做是你,你怎么选择?今年奥运会明摆着压制亚洲羽毛球强队,不能说脏话,我们还有什么可说的![[4]]

China's Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli were stunned by the disqualification

@艾小檬 notes that South Korea and Indonesian teams are also involved: “I believe there is a reason for this. The athletes have worked so hard and they surely do not want to throw the match. The IOC asked everyone to show Olympic spirit, but have they thought about how to best encourage the spirit and not hinder it when they made the rules? This scandal involved so many countries, and it’s telling that the system forces participants into doing bad deeds. {{5}}[[5]]也相信事出有因啦,运动员多少辛苦努力,他们内心深处肯定不想消极比赛的,奥委要求大家秉承奥运体育精神,但你制定制度的时候,有从一个现实的角度来考虑如何最大化激励这个精神而不是阻碍吗?此次涉及这么多国家,多少也说明这个赛制有点逼良为娼[[5]]

A great number of netizens also saved very harsh words for Chinese sports officials for not appealing the decision and better protecting the interests of the athletes and Team China, noting that the South Korean and Indonesian teams have appealled the decision. @REDHOTCHILIPEPPER tweets, ”The first thing the Chinese delegation should do it to appeal and not to investigate. The delegation can’t even protect the interest of its own athletes. That’s really the wrong direction.” {{6}}[[6]]中国代表团第一时间该做的是“申诉”不是去“调查”。自己队员的权益都不维护,这代表团反应的方向忒不正确。 [[6]]

The ends justify the means, said the Great Architect

Don’t insult the Olympic spirit

Other netizens agree with the punishment. @琪花拂涧 tweets, “I watched a video of the match, and think it does deserve any kind of punishment. What a grave violation of the spirit of the sport. But the athletes really are innocent.” {{7}}[[7]]看了比赛视频,觉得怎么处罚也不为过,严重违背了体育的精神。不过运动员真的很无辜[[7]] @水元素-锡希相冠, on the other hand, thinks the athletes’ real mistake is not having taken an acting class. “It’s fine to throw the match but be better at acting, even just to make the audience happy. The way they played that match is like kicking the ball through one’s own goal in soccer and scoring in one’s own hoops in basketball. It challenges spectators’ intelligence.” {{8}}[[8]]想放弃可以啊,样子做做足,满足下观众也好,她们那场比赛的打法,和足球往自家球门提,篮球投自己篮筐的性质是一样的,有点挑战人们智商了[[8]]

Is this worth it?

@张城慧Queenie, on the other hand, believes the athletes are not blameless, “Some people are exploiting the loopholes in the new system and showing clear utilitarianism. Even dummies can tell this is obvious fake playing. The athletes are sympathetic but they agreed to [the strategy] and executed it so they should suffer the consequences. Although they have been influenced by the coaches, they need to pay for their acquiescence.” {{9}}[[9]]新赛制,有人利用漏洞,功利主义太过明显,这种低级假球,垃圾都看得出来。运动员虽然值得同情,但是也还是认同并执行了,那就要承担这样的后果。虽然很大程度上受教练的影响,但是无声的默认就要为此付出代价[[9]]

@摩羯9314 also takes the moral high ground, ”[The players] value medals much more than their own roles as athletes. Even if this is not what they intended, don’t they also have the right to choose? If they are not athletes and have some occupation, they would also make the same choice in this kind of situation. This is a matter of moral character.” {{10}}[[10]]是从心底里把荣誉奖牌看的比运动员的身份重的多的多。即使不是本意,不也有选择的权利不是吗?即使不是运动员,做别的职业,这种处境你们也会这样选择的。是人格问题。[[10]]

The carrier of crushed dreams

Unfortunately, the flame wars on China’s social media cannot help salvage the sports careers of the disqualified athletes. In her parting words to the BWF, Yu Yang tweets, “You crushed our dreams heartlessly. This matter is simple as that, really not that complicated, but this is also unforgivable.” {{11}}[[11]]你们无情的打碎了我们的梦想。事情就是这么简单,没有那么复杂,但就是这么不可饶恕。[[11]]

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.
  • east2west

    I think that the players are not the only ones to
    blame. Chinese athletes often let their
    coaches decide how to approach each game, so if their coaches say lose this
    game so you’ll have a better draw in the next round, they would just do it.

    Similarly, Chinese coaches are under great pressure from the
    provincial and central government sports authorities to win as many medals as
    they can for China. If that means
    letting one of their players lose to another deliberately in earlier rounds so
    that the team as a whole has a better chance in the later rounds against
    foreign players, then they would do it too.

    Check out this related story:

    http://hopewelljournal.com/2012/08/olympic-badminton-players-disqualified-for-deliberate-poor-play/

  • east2west

    I think that the players are not the only ones to
    blame. Chinese athletes often let their
    coaches decide how to approach each game, so if their coaches say lose this
    game so you’ll have a better draw in the next round, they would just do it.

    Similarly, Chinese coaches are under great pressure from the
    provincial and central government sports authorities to win as many medals as
    they can for China. If that means
    letting one of their players lose to another deliberately in earlier rounds so
    that the team as a whole has a better chance in the later rounds against
    foreign players, then they would do it too.

    Check out this related story:

    http://hopewelljournal.com/2012/08/olympic-badminton-players-disqualified-for-deliberate-poor-play/

  • east2west

    Wonder how many badminton gold medals China will get; they’ve already got the mixed doubles and woman’s single

  • east2west

    Wonder how many badminton gold medals China will get; they’ve already got the mixed doubles and woman’s single