Badminton the biggest loser after eight expulsions
LONDON (Reuters) - The festering issue of draw rigging in badminton has finally erupted on the biggest sporting stage and while the expulsion of eight players at the Olympics will eventually blow over, it is sure to leave a sizeable scar.
The sight of four women's doubles pairs deliberately throwing their matches to secure a better run to the medal rounds disgusted a crowd of 4,800 packed into Wembley Arena expecting to see the best of badminton's best.
Instead they were treated with disdain as the Chinese, South Korean and Indonesian players sprayed hopeless shots into the net and beyond the lines. Their antics were also beamed around the globe to a disbelieving audience.
Disturbingly, the badminton world had been expecting it.
Players and coaches lamented a culture of manipulation that had been allowed to take hold of the professional tour for years. The only shock, one player said, was the teams had the gall to do it at the Olympics.
"There's always been talk of China working out who wins before, if their teams are playing each other or set to play each other," Germany's singles player Marc Zweiber said.
"Korea did something similar in a Thomas Cup event before," he added, referring to the national team-based event.
"There has been talk the whole season that the Chinese team have fixed matches. I don't feel the BWF (Badminton World Federation) does anything to solve it. I think they need to do more."
The BWF disqualified the four pairs on Wednesday, saying they needed to take a strong stance against conduct "clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport".
The players thrown out were China's top-seeded duo Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, South Korean pairs Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, and Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung, plus Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari of Indonesia.
The federation also said they would review the format of round-robin pool matches for the opening round, instituted for the first time at an Olympics, after it proved ripe for rigging in London.
While an International Olympic Committee spokesman said badminton's place on the Games program would be safe, the sport will clearly have to do a lot of soul searching and swallow some bitter pills to repair its battered image.
But even as the sanctions were being handed down, coaches and team officials said they would have considered using the same underhand tactics with Olympic medals on the line.
A Danish pair had scored a surprise win over second seeds Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei of China in the women's preliminary round, inadvertently setting off a chain of events that ended with eight players being kicked out of the Games.
"I'm very happy we were the ones that made all the trouble by causing an upset," Denmark's head coach Lars Uhre told Reuters.
"We know China are doing the best they can to give the best possible result for themselves as a nation so it's not a surprise - it's a bad system."
Fabrice Vallet, a coach with the French team, said the players deserved disqualification and needed to be on their best behavior with the eyes of the world on the sport every four years.
"If we went to be solid in the Olympics we need to show we can play in the Olympic spirit," he said.
"The Olympic spirit is fairness and that's the first thing."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)