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China's Yao Ming calls punished badminton players victims

BEIJING (Reuters) - Basketball hero Yao Ming has waded into the controversy over badminton match-throwing at the Olympics, saying China’s disqualified players were the victims in the incident.

Former NBA basketball player Yao Ming attends a news conference in Hong Kong May 12, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

China were rocked by the expulsion of top-seeded women’s doubles pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, among eight players kicked out in midweek for playing to lose group matches with the aim of securing more favorable draws in the knockout rounds.

Yao told the state news agency Xinhua late on Saturday he supported the decision of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to disqualify the players but added that he understood the feelings on the issue of his fellow Chinese.

“(The) same kind of things happen in basketball. It’s a simple question. Is the match-fixing scandal right? Does a gold medal (mean) more than anything else?”, Yao said.

“People have different attitudes to the Olympics and I must say some sports need to polish the rules. I feel really sorry for the punished players. They are the victims.”

China’s Olympic team said it was committed to fair play and upholding the spirit of the Games and demanded the players apologize for their behavior but the scandal has caused mixed emotions in the country.

Elements of the media said the BWF must shoulder some responsibility for the scandal while Yu slammed the federation for shattering her and her doubles partner’s “dream”.

Yao, who opened up the world’s most populous country to the NBA before retiring from basketball last year, also added it was ungentlemanly to accuse Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen of doping after she picked up two golds at the London Games.

Top American coach John Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, said history showed that every time something “unbelievable” occurred in the sport it turned out ultimately to involve doping.

“I can understand the Americans who dominated the pool for decades. It’s a common reaction,” Yao said.

“It happened when (Jamaican sprinter) Usain Bolt emerged and it happened again with Ye.

“Ye jumped out from nowhere to take away the glories that the Americans thought belonged to them for a long time. It’s not a good feeling,” Yao added. “But I think the Americans were not gentlemenly when they said ... that.”

In 2002, the 6-foot-7 (2.30-metre) former Houston Rockets centre Yao was the first international player to become the top pick in the NBA draft.

He was also an eight-times All Star.

(This story was refiled to correct typo in headline)

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Tony Jimenez