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Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Players banned for throwing matches

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LONDON -- Eight badminton players at the London Olympics were kicked out of competition Wednesday for trying to lose -- a display that drew outrage from fans and organizers who said the women had violated the most sacred stage in sports.

After an unexpected loss by a powerful Chinese doubles team, the eight women appeared to play poorly on purpose to secure a more favorable position in the next phase of the event.

The feeble play was obvious to fans who attended the matches Tuesday night at Wembley Arena -- they chanted, "Off! Off! Off!" -- and to incredulous television broadcasters and viewers watching around the world.

"They're serving fault and fault! They are just hitting the ball into the net!" the BBC's David Mercer said in disbelief. "They are both trying to lose, and that is unforgivable. This is the Olympic Games."

The eight doubles players from China, South Korea and Indonesia were cited by the Badminton World Federation for "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport."

Badminton
Referee Torsten Berg, second from right, talks to South Korean coach Sung Han-kook, right, after Berg issued a black card to the players in the women's doubles match between South Korea and Indonesia.

The players are world doubles champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China and their South Korean opponents, Jung Kyun-eun and Kim Ha-na, along with South Korea's Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung and Indonesia's Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii. They were disqualified from competition but allowed to stay at the Games -- a step lighter than expulsion, the penalty for positive drug tests.

"We have to be clear: There has been a problem here and we have to take that problem very seriously," BWF secretary general Thomas Lund said. "There are things we can improve on and look at after this competition."

Teams blamed the introduction of a round-robin stage rather than a straight knockout tournament as the main cause of the problem. The round-robin format can allow results to be manipulated to earn an easier matchup in the knockout round.

The Chinese players tried to rig the draw after China's second-seeded pair unexpectedly lost to a Danish team in the morning. That placed the No. 2 pair on course for a semifinal meeting with Wang and Yu, instead of the final.

Wang and Yu then deliberately set out to lose so they would go into the bottom half of the draw. They hardly exerted themselves, and neither did the South Koreans, drawing jeers of derision from the crowd and warnings from the umpire and tournament referee Torsten Berg. Wang and Yu eventually got what they wanted by losing.

After the match, Yu said his team was only trying to save energy for the knockout rounds, which start Wednesday.

Later, Yu said he was quitting the sport.

A comment on a verified account for Yu on the Tencent microblogging service late Wednesday read: "This is my last game. Farewell Badminton World Federation. Farewell my dear badminton."

An hour later, the South Korean team of Ha and Kim took to the court and decided also to try to lose to the Indonesians to avoid meeting Wang and Yu in the quarterfinals. Early on, all four players were warned by the umpire for not trying hard, and Berg returned and produced black cards to disqualify both pairs, but the cards were rescinded on a promise of better play.

In the third game, Berg reappeared to urge them to finish, and the Indonesians ended up being better at losing than Ha and Kim, who fell into the playoff they didn't want with the world champions.

South Korea and Indonesia appealed the disqualification, but the BWF rejected the South Korean appeal and Indonesia's challenge was withdrawn. China had accepted the federation's earlier decision.

The competition was to continue later Wednesday with four previously eliminated teams in the quarterfinals. Russian pair Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova, and Canadian team Alex Bruce and Michele Li now advance from Group A. Australian pair Leanne Choo and Renuga Veeran and South African duo Michelle Edwards and Annari Viljoen go through from Group C.

"We applaud the federation for having taken swift and decisive action," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press. "Such behavior is incompatible with the Olympic values."

Before the decision was announced, Indonesia Olympic team leader Erick Thohir accused Chinese players of losing on purpose in the past.

"China has been doing this so many times and they never get sanctioned by the BWF," Thohir said. "On the first game yesterday when China did it, the BWF didn't do anything. If the BWF do something on the first game and they say you are disqualified, it is a warning for everyone."

In a statement released to the official Xinhua news agency, the Chinese Olympic delegation criticized its players' actions.

"The behavior by Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli on court violated the Olympics ideal and the spirit of fair play. The Chinese delegation feels distressed over this matter," the delegation said.

Xinhua also reported Chinese badminton coach Li Yongbo apologized and accepted blame for the scandal.

"As the head coach, I owe the fans and the Chinese an apology," Li said. "Chinese players failed to demonstrate their fighting spirit of the national team. It's me to blame."

IOC vice president Craig Reedie, the former head of the international badminton federation, welcomed the decision to kick the four teams out.

"Sport is competitive," Reedie told the AP. "If you lose the competitive element, then the whole thing becomes a nonsense.

"You cannot allow a player to abuse the tournament like that, and not take firm action. So good on them."

The players went before a disciplinary hearing Wednesday, a day after spectators at the arena booed their performance.

IOC president Jacques Rogge had been at the venue but had left shortly before the drama unfolded. Rogge said later Wednesday the Olympic body could take further action against the eight disqualified players.

London organizers sold tickets to the Tuesday badminton events for 20 to 75 pounds, or $31 to $117. They said they had no plans to refund money to fans and had not received requests to do so.

"You get into all sorts of strange precedents if people aren't satisfied with what they see," said Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London Olympic organizing committee.

Chairman Sebastian Coe called what happened "depressing," adding "who wants to sit through something like that?"

One of the world's top male players, 2004 Olympic singles champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, called the situation a "circus match."

"I'm happy. I know I'm from Indonesia and the ladies' doubles are from Indonesia, but it's for the sport," he said. "It's not sporting."

China's Lin Dan, the Olympic men's champion in singles, said the sport is going to be damaged.

"Especially for the audience," he said through an interpreter before the disqualifications were announced. "This is definitely not within the Olympic spirit. But like I said before, it's not one-sided. Whoever sets the rule should make it knockout so whoever doesn't try will just leave the Olympics."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.