Graney: Badminton good for Olympic business

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Las Vegas Review-Journal

LONDON — The Olympic Oath is taken late in the opening ceremonies, when thousands of athletes stand and promise to respect their sport and abide by its rules, to compete in the true spirit of sportsmanship and for the glory and honor of their teams.

There isn’t anything honorable about badminton today.

Talk about a sentence I never thought about writing.

Is there anything better than this? The wacky scandal that found the 2012 Games in the sport of rackets and nets and shuttlecocks is apparently old hat, because it seems the Chinese have made a habit of rigging draws by making like buffoons and losing on purpose.

Hey, when you have a 16-year old female swimmer going faster than gold-medal winning men and have been caught trotting out 14-year old gymnasts who aren’t eligible in order to win, tanking the you-know-what out of round-robin badminton matches isn’t exactly thinking outside the box.

The only difference is that people will now take notice.

Badminton is one of those sports most of the world watches, if that, every four years. So when four female doubles teams are disqualified from these Games for trying to lose on purpose to avoid certain opponents early in a single-elimination bracket, condemnation will come from all sides of the Olympic rings.

Most if it is warranted, especially when you consider how bad those sent home were at cheating.

Fact: China owns the world’s best badminton teams.

It also started this mess.

The No. 1 team of Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli didn’t want a semifinal pairing against its No. 2 ranked teammates, who had been upset earlier Tuesday, so it decided to lose to a South Korean foe and all but ensure an all-Chinese gold-medal match.

South Korea quickly noticed what was happening — rumor has it Yu was trying to head the shuttlecock over net like a soccer ball and Wang was using her hands to stop it in mid-flight — and followed suit. The Koreans also tried losing the match in hopes of securing a more favorable draw, although they eventually won 21-14, 21-11 and were overly disgusted for it.

The crowd booed and hissed and demanded its money back.

At one point, there were nine straight service errors. Yu and Wang are three-time world champions and suddenly couldn’t hit a shot to save their lives.

It would be like Kobe Bryant missing 100 straight jumpers.

No rally lasted more than four shots. It was a bad joke that got worse with each whiff. The only thing missing was Yu hitting Wang in the face with a pie.

The domino effect then continued when Indonesia’s team began conceding points against a second South Korean side, all to avoid China in the quarterfinals. The Koreans joined in. Headers and pies and serves into the net. Or at least serves into the net.

The sport’s top federation officials watched, winced, steamed and promptly disqualified the Chinese gold-medal favorites, Indonesia and the two South Korea teams for “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”

Gee, ya think?

“It’s shameful and sad,” said Christina Pedersen of a Denmark team that advanced to the quarterfinals. “It was the right decision to disqualify them. If you don’t, they will try it again. I am 100 percent sure they did this. I’ve seen China do this so many times.

Normally, they are better at acting or just retire with an injury and are back playing the next week.”

Talk about crazy. In a matter of hours, teams from Canada, Australia, Russia and South Africa, thought eliminated from competition the previous evening, were back playing Wednesday.

So, too, was Japan, which was accused by India’s coach of also trying to lose a round-robin match. The Japanese duo, who denied such charges after defeating Denmark and advancing to the semifinals, apparently hire better acting coaches than the Chinese.

South Africa and Australia made the quarterfinals without winning a set. Canada is ranked 27th in the world and finds itself in the semifinals opposite Japan. The No. 2 team from China is still alive and there have been no charges of them using their heads to score points.

It’s all sort of funny.

And ridiculous.

It’s also not new. Soccer teams rest their best players in pool play of huge events after qualifying for the bracket. Tennis players who are down a few sets will tank the third to go home. NFL teams have played not to win to improve draft status. NBA teams do so for more ping-pong balls. Badminton definitely didn’t invent the whole lose-on-purpose idea.

But it doesn’t make it right, especially at the Olympics, where the creed is not about the triumph but the struggle. The motto of, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” means “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”

It does not mean, “Bag, Tank, Cheat.”

Badminton needs to ditch the round-robin format and return to a single-elimination tournament at future Games, even if it means some athletes’ Olympic moment will be just that with first-round losses.

You can’t have a sport few know or care about defined by this sort of black mark and expect anyone to take it seriously. Seed the bracket. Play it out. Remove all control from coaches or players or politicians or whoever is making the call to try and manipulate the process.

“These were some of the world’s best teams,” said Canadian team member Alex Bruce. “Watching them, it was clear what was happening.”

Scandal at Wembley Arena.

The female badminton players have run amuck.

You have to love the Olympics.

Ed Graney is a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also is writing an Olympics blog at Follow him on Twitter @edgraney He can be reached at