GLENDA KWEK August 01, 2012
Controversy ... China's Wang Xiaoli, right. and Yu Yang Photo: Reuters
Eight female Olympic badminton players have been charged by their federation after two extraordinary women's doubles matches in which the pairs appeared to fight hard ... to lose.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) said in a statement that "the pairs have been charged ... with 'not using one's best efforts to win a match' and 'conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport'," Reuters reported.
A BWF official said after the matches this morning that the behaviour of the players - which included the competition's top seeds - was "not in a good spirit" and embarrassing.
The players could be disciplined for their actions, but it was not specified what sanctions might be imposed on them.
'The Chinese started this'
The head coach of South Korea, Sung Han-kook, admited his doubles players threw the games, but only after the Chinese tried started playing to lose.
"The Chinese started this. They did it first," Reuters quoted Sung as saying. "It's a complicated thing with the draws. They didn't want to meet each other in the semi-final. So we did the same. We didn't want to play the South Korean team again [in the knockout stages]."
In the match, the two teams - Chinese top seeds Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang, and South Koreans Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na - were booed off the court after the Group A clash which saw them regularly serving into the net or hitting shuttlecocks wide on purpose, media reports said.
At one point, match referee Torsten Berg had to go out on to the court to warn the players, the reports added.
Both pairs already qualified for the last 16 and the alleged attempts to lose could be a way to alter their final standings in Group A and obtain a favourable draw for the knock-out rounds. The Chinese eventually lost the 23-minute match 14-21, 11-21, meaning they would not have to play their compatriots Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei - the second seeds - until the final.
Tian and Zhao had earlier lost to Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen from Denmark.
Same tactics, different match?
But the Chinese-Korean match was not the only one mired with controversy. In a later match, the third seeds, South Koreans Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung, and Indonesians Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii, also appeared to be trying to lose.
Mr Berg pulled out a black card during the game - meaning disqualification - but it was rescinded after protests from the Indonesians.
London's Daily Telegraph quoted China's Yu as saying after the match: "Actually these opponents really were strong. This is the first time we've played them and tomorrow it's the knockout rounds, so we've already qualified and we wanted to have more energy for the knockout rounds.
"Really, it's not necessary to go out hard again when the knockout rounds are tomorrow."
Paisan Rangsikitpho, a Badminton World Federation's technical committee member, told Reuters earlier his governing body would "have a real discussion tonight to see what has happened".
"If it's true what I hear, this is a shame and I don't like it. And I'm not going to accept anything that I don't like at all. It's not in a good spirit," he said. "It is [embarrassing] at the Games. I apologise to the public, I apologise for everyone and I am not happy. If we have to stay up all night, we will have a serious meeting."
'Such a bad image for badminton'
The chaos sparked a series of finger-pointing among athletes and coaches. Bulgarian singles player Alesia Zaitsave said China "do what they want". "They did so many times last year, they did not play between each other like 20 matches," he said.
German singles player Marc Zwiebler said South Korea manipulated matches in the 2008 Thomas Cup.
"Against England they wanted to get second in their group so all the doubles players played singles and the singles players played doubles and they were just laughing on the court and let England win," Mr Zwiebler said.
"England finished top of the group and had to play a stronger team."
He added: "If it was the case they wanted to purposely lose, then it's a big shame ... it's absolutely stupid and shameful sport.
"I can understand the motives but that they have the guts to actually stand in a crowded hall and put such shame in the game - it's such a bad image for badminton."
In China, some netizens criticised the players on the Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo, saying they should be thrown out of the Olympics.
But others defended them, saying that the Games were not just about athletic prowess. "It's also about whether you can use your wits," one user wrote.