The lords of the Olympic rings like to portray their Games as nobler than most.
There are no dugout-clearing brawls. No bounty hits (that we know of). No spying on practice sessions. Trash-talking is frowned upon, and the language barrier ruins the effect anyway. Even the basketball coaches treat Olympic refs with respect.
Athletes promise to compete with honor during Opening Ceremonies, and if they don’t, they go home.
So it was no surprise when eight badminton players who tried to lose on purpose in a match-fixing scandal were kicked out of London on Wednesday.
Two Chinese doubles players deliberately missed shots to avoid facing a higher-ranked team in the next round. But then their South Korean opponents caught on and did the same, resulting in an embarrassing display of bad badminton by the word’s top-ranked players. They flicked the shuttlecock into the net or bashed it out of bounds as spectators who paid up to $150 per ticket booed and jeered.
In another match, between an Indonesian pair and a different South Korean pair, similar shenanigans occurred.
British silver medalist Gail Emms, now a BBC commentator, Tweeted during the first match: “Both pairs TRYING to lose!!!” and later, “I’m going to hotel. I feel drained, dismayed, frustrated and really peed off.”
Other badminton players chimed in about the damage done to their sport.
“An absolute disgrace,” Tweeted Great Britain’s Chris Adcock. “I’d ban them for life. Chinese cheating, but nothing new.”
China often gets accused of cheating. Remember the distance runners who ate deer glands, set world records that still stand and disappeared? Or the batch of burly swimmers who broke records and were caught using performance-enhancing drugs?
American Swimming Coaches Association president John Leonard of Fort Lauderdale has devoted years of detective work to examining the Chinese swimming system, tracking young athletes, collecting information on coaches and looking into the netherworld of drug labs. It’s difficult to pin anything down without a badge or International Olympic Committee authority, but Leonard was not afraid to question the 400 individual medley world record of 16-year-old Ye Shiwen, who swam a split that was faster than Ryan Lochte’s. She has won two gold medals that Leonard believes should have gone to someone else. Leonard remembers how the East Germans denied the 1976 U.S. women their medals. He’s going to raise questions, just as “Surly” Shirley Babashoff did. Leonard was upbraided by Olympic officials because Ye “has never tested positive.” How many times have we heard that defense?
The Olympics have been a showcase for all kinds of doping scandals, from Ben Johnson to the overmedicated Irish horse whose rider was stripped of his medal.
The fix has been on in judging and even in modern pentathlon, when an athlete rigged his electronic fencing gear.
If the Olympics are such a paragon of virtue, then why were the Games held in Nazi Germany? Why were John Carlos and Tommie Smith banished in shame despite their right to freedom of expression? Why have political boycotts been used to push nationalistic agendas?
In 2012, racist taunts by soccer players and fans have proved to be just as much a scourge in the Olympics as in pro leagues. A Swiss player was expelled.
Social media has opened a whole new avenue of thoughtlessness with a stream of inappropriate Tweets and emails. A Greek triple jumper’s comments about Africans ended her Olympic trip. U.S. soccer goalie Hope Solo got catty with former player and current commentator Brandi Chastain.
You could also classify the hoarding of prime tickets by corporate and IOC VIPs as shamefully unsportsmanlike. It’s an outrage to see athletes who have worked years to make it to these Games compete in arenas that are one-third empty when they could be filled with enthusiastic, knowledgeable fans who really wanted to buy tickets.
Bad sportsmanship isn’t something that can be quarantined from the Olympics. If an athlete is a sore loser or a low-class winner before he gets to the Games, the five-ring halo isn’t likely to transform him.
With so much more at stake today because medals can mean millions in sponsorship money, it’s surprising there isn’t more unethical behavior at the McDonald’s/VISA Games.
But then, the Olympics are the perfect stage for examples of admirable sportsmanship. Remember when long jumper Ralph Boston offered Bob Beamon helpful feedback on his takeoff after Beamon had scratched twice in qualifying? Those words changed the course of history, as Beamon set a world record that stood for 23 years.