Thursday, August 02, 2012

Unfair to ban 4 Badminton teams from Olympics 2012

Four badminton doubles team were banned in the London Olympics 2012. The reason: They manipulated the result so as to face "less competitive" opponents during the knock-out stages.

Banned players. Image courtesy: Reuters
Prima facie, it seems justified. You play to win. No one plays to lose - and that too at the Olympics. No one sacrifices four years of their life to practice for the one event that makes all the difference. One medal, that's all it takes to make a name for yourself, for your country, for your generation. Losing is never an option.


Now before I make my point, let's go through the format: There are groups defined. All teams play against each other within their groups. The top 2 teams qualify for the knock-out stage (round of 8). If you are the top team in your group, you face the 2nd best team from the other group which is already defined. Once you win the quarter-final, you have a 75% chance to win a medal - there are 3 medals for the taking and 4 teams in the semi-finals.

Here's where the loophole is: If you have already qualified for the knock-outs with one game remaining in the group stage, you invariably have the power to select your opponent from the other group (provided the other group also have qualified teams). Sportsmanship will never allow you to do such a thing. But you see, unfortunately, you are seldom remembered for sportsmanship in such a high profile event like Olympics. You are always remembered for the medal you won. Like they say, you are never remembered for aiming at the target, you are always remembered for hitting it! So technically, if you have already qualified for knock-outs and have the power to select a weaker opponent by playing "within the rules of the game", thereby having a better chance to reach the semi-finals and have a 75% chance of winning a medal, will you not do it?

That's my point. The problem is not with the players. The problem is with the format. Such a format forces a player to make a decision (s)he might not be willing to take but they have to take for the sake of eternal glory. Because if they don't take such a decision, they will stand to lose in the quarters and lose everything. After losing, no one cares if you played in the spirit of the game. (Case in point: Media forgot about Abhinav Bindra when Gagan Narang won the bronze. If you observed Bindra's reaction, you will realize that he gracefully accepted defeat and wished success to everyone and left the spotlight. He lost, but for me, he won - am taking nothing away from Narang though).

Olympics committee banned the 4 teams from the tournament. That's the least they could have done. But that does not solve the problem. The root cause lies elsewhere.

Solution: There are two possible ways this could be avoided -
  1. Have a complete knock-out format similar to the Grand-slam Tennis tournaments. You lose, you are out.
  2. Have the existing format, but randomly select the quarter-final line up, similar to UEFA Champions league (Soccer). Let the top 2 teams from each group qualify for knock-outs. Conduct a transparent knock-out line-up event by having the names of top teams from each group in one bowl and the names of 2nd best team from each group in another bowl. Randomly select one team from bowl 1 and one from bowl 2. They will play against each other in the quarterfinal. Also, you don't need to repeat the same process for semi-finals.
In both the cases, you are not giving power to players to "manipulate" the tournament. Players should do what they are supposed to do - win - and the format will take care of itself. A big tournament such as Olympics should adopt a more flexible and non-manipulative format. And most of all, Sportsmanship should prevail.

PS: I know I am going against popular perception. I am all for the spirit of the game, but who are we to judge athletes who toiled for years for a medal.


  1. hmm well I don't quite agree Binu. There is toiling for years for a medal and there is a question of ethics. Agree the format is also at fault, but it is almost like you are fixing a match for 2 medals for your country.

    Maybe next time don't make the lose all that obvious.

    Well articulated post.

  2. Jenny, as I said, even I would have gone with spirit of the game and would not have manipulated the event. But then who are we to judge them and their decisions. Had this not come to light, we all would have appreciated a "well deserved" gold, silver and bronze medalist :)

    PS: I agree, they made it very obvious!

  3. The underlying theme of Olympics is not about the medals but about the participation. It is sad that these days everywhere we are seeing people having no regard to ethics, integrity and moral values. And this is everywhere, in Politics, Work, Business and now in sports. For me ethics comes first and everything else is secondary.

    Thank you explaining the format, I didn't knew it.

    1. Prashanth, the way Olympics is being projected now-a-days, the underlying theme has lost its way somewhere.. Its all about the medals, number of medals, most celebrated Olympian etc.. If you see the current status, China is leading with 'n' number of gold. No one says, these many people competed and so on..

      Underlying spirit matters to a handful of people. In a democracy, handful doesn't matter..

  4. Binu, if the intent is not honest and is visible to anyone then no matter how good one is, it does not really matter!

    1. Agreed sir. But in today's world, its difficult to list down a group of sports stars who sacrificed their goals for true spirit of the game.

  5. Hey Binu, though I agree with some of your points. It's not fair to play like this in Olympics. I know the format is like this but you can't take unethical way to manipulate the results and blame format of the game. With this view match fixing is also type of manipulation then and we can say the format of game is like that only. Though 10% depends on format, there should be integrity while playing any game.
    And I saw the highlights of one of the match. And these players got warning from Referee. At least after the warning they should have played their natural game. Coz ban is worth if you are being deaf year to Match Referee.

    1. You are right. And that's precisely my point. We are talking about Spirit v/s what's lawfully right. What the players did was unethical, but not against the rules. I am not supporting the players here, I am just blaming the format which forced the team to make such a decision.. It's evident in cricket too.. Eg: Australia in CWC 2003. Everything was forgotten since they won the world cup..

  6. Agree. No point banning the players when there is a loophole in the format.


All yours..

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