While badminton has usually remained a controversy-free sport, every now and then, things haven’t gone the way they are supposed to go even in this sport. One such occasion was the 2012 Olympics at which badminton’s image suffered bit of a hit as controversy hit the sport hard.
This is one of the most infamous moments in the badminton Olympics history. Eight Olympics players were disqualified from the 2012 London games for throwing their matches in a bid to get an easier opponent next round.
Background to Badminton at the 2012 London Olympics
Before this edition of the Olympics, all badminton matches were held on a straight knockout basis; winner of a match to go through to the next round, loser gets knocked out right from round one.
The 2012 London games was the first edition of Olympics when badminton had two separate stages; a round-round first round followed by the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final for all its events.
What was the Controversy?
The controversy arose in the women’s doubles competitions.
At the women’s doubles events, there were 16 pairs in action. These pairs were divided into four groups of four apiece, with each doubles pair featuring in three league matches apiece. The top 2 teams in each group at the end of the league stage were to qualify for the quarterfinals.
The Chinese pair of Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang were the top seeds while Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei, also of China, were the second seeds and were placed in Groups A and D respectively.
If they had topped their respective groups, they would have not faced off before the final, thereby ensuring a possibility of a China gold-silver.
As things turned out, the Danish pair of Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl stunned the second seeded Tian and Zhao in Group D to push them down to the second spot in that group.
That match was held in the morning of July 31.
What this meant was if the top seeds Xiaoli and Yang won their group, Group A, the two Chinese pairs could end up facing off in the semifinals instead of the earlier expected final, thereby ending any chance of a 1-2 position for the country.
As a result, when it came to their turn in their final league stage encounter which was held later in the day, Xiaoli and Yang started to serve into the net or hit the shots wide in a bid to also finish second in their group.
Their opponents, South Korean Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na realised what was going on and retaliated with similar tactics but in the end they ended up winning the topping the group.
The Chinese pair finished second in their group, and was now expected to play the winner of the Group C in the quarterfinal. More importantly they had avoided the potential of playing the other Chinese pair in the semifinals.
The tussle now shifted to South Korea’s Ha Jung-eun/Kim Min-jung and Indonesia’s Meiliana Jauhari/Greysia Polii in Group C wanting to finish second as well in a bid to avoid playing the top Chinese seeds who had ended second. This match was also to be played on the same day but later in the evening.
As a result of the previous match, both pairs, South Korea’s Ha Jung-eun/Kim Min-jung and Indonesia’s Meiliana Jauhari/Greysia Polii ended up repeating the farce of the previous encounter – easy points were missed and rallies didn’t last longer than 2-3 shots.
The crowds booed the players but that didn’t look to bother them, as the attempt to avoid playing the Chinese top seeds blinded them to the possibility of what was to follow. The Koreans eventually won the match and topped the group but any joy their opponents might have felt was to be short-lived.
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What Happened Next?
The IOC and BWF took matters into their hands. Very soon all four teams involved in this farce, the top two from Groups A and C were disqualified.
The charges brought on to the players were they did “not using best efforts” and “conducted themselves in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport”.
The Badminton World Federation officials read out a brief statement announcing the same to the media and the teams which had finished third and fourth in both those groups qualified for the quarterfinals. Indonesia and South Korea appealed the ruling but while the former withdrew their appeal, the latter’s appeal was rejected.
Russia’s Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova, one of the pair which was benefitted by this disqualification, went on to win the bronze medal. China still won the gold with Tian and Zhao beating Japan’s Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa in the final.
Format in the 2016 edition of Olympics
The 2016 Olympics was held at Rio de Janeiro where badminton followed the same format as the 2012 edition. The competition had a group stage as their first round which was followed by knockouts. This time around, however, there was no repeat of the previous controversy.