Olympics: Why it's bye bye birdie for badminton in Indonesia
Badminton remains among Indonesia's most popular sports. But the Olympic match throwing scandal is the latest black eye for a sport whose star is fading in the world's fourth largest country.
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Match throwing is nothing new to badminton, which has created its share of controversies during its 20 year Olympic run. Heated internal politics have drawn quiet warnings in the past from the International Olympic Committee, according to AFP.Skip to next paragraph
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This year the Olympics moved away from a straight knock-out system to a pool play round for qualification for the elimination bracket. The approach creates perverse incentives for players, since in certain circumstances their chances of winning a medal improves if they throw a pool play match. Basically, the disqualified players have been punished for using a little game theory.
Badminton is far from the only sport where tanking happens. In the NBA, teams with no hope of making the playoffs are frequently accused of tanking games towards the end of the year, since teams with the weakest records get higher picks in the following year's draft. Soccer tournaments often turn on pool play matches where one team is indifferent to victory, since it's already qualified for the next round, and rests its best players.
In 1998's TIger Cup played in Vietnam, Indonesia was embroiled in one of soccer's great match throwing scandals. The winner of the Thailand-Indonesia pool play match would have to face Vietnam in front of its rabid home fans, so both teams spent the first 85 minutes or so trying to lose. With the score tied in the dying moments of regulation, Indonesia began attacking its own goal, with the Thai players desperately defending. Indonesia succeeded in scoring the own goal, then went on to be crushed by Singapore in the following round before being sanctioned by FIFA.
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For badminton, Indonesia’s top sports official said the format was the main problem.
“We respect the Badminton World Federation’s decision but we want the BWF to review the competition system they used,” said Indonesia’s Sports and Youth Minister Andi Mallarangeng in a statement posted on the Indonesian Badminton Association’s website.
Meanwhile, the disqualification drew a fairly muted response here in Indonesia.
Some fans said they were embarrassed and lashed out at the players for not being brave enough to face up to a tough opponent. “Why are we so afraid of China,” one Twitter user wrote. “We [were] once the greatest in badminton.”
Erick Thohir, the head of Indonesia’s Olympic team, used the social media site first to point the finger at China for frequently throwing games without sanction, and then to ask fans to give their moral support to Indonesian athletes who remained in the competition.
But while the news hit Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, it didn't make it to the front pages of the nation's major papers.
Some sports commentators called the dispute “shameful,” describing players who served the shuttlecock into the net and barely made an effort to keep a rally going for more than four shots. The performance drew widespread boos and hoots from a packed stadium.
“Who wants to sit through something like that,” said Laurent Constantin, a men’s doubles player from France.
Laurencia Averina, Budikusumo’s daughter, came to her country’s defense.
“Usually we play to win, not to lose,” said she. The 13-year-old has been playing badminton since the age of four, but while she says she loves the sport, she also says she has no plans to go to the Olympics.
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