Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Badminton suspensions place wrongly blame players for incentives created by Olympic officials

There's a stench of hypocrisy surrounding the decision by the International Olympic Committee to suspend eight badminton players yesterday for tanking matches to manipulate who they would face in the seedings. (See Washington Post coverage.)

By contrast, the Japanexe soccer (football) team will rest four or five of their starting players in its game today against Honduras, I heard on NBC, because they're already won enough to be guaranteed a slot in the elimination rounds. NBC color announcer and former Olympian Cobi Jones predicted a Honduran upset as a result. Similarly, yesterday I watched an Australian boxer who had clearly dominated the first two rounds of a fight get on his bicycle and avoid significant punching exchanges with his opponent throughout Round Three.

How are these episodes any different from the athletes who tanked badminton matches? (And if you don't think badminton players are athletes, you haven't seen the game played at the highest levels.) IMO the blame lies not with the athletes, who're only responding to the incentives created by those who set up the event. If you want everyone to try hard every game, make them all elimination matches. But don't blame players for maximizing their chances to win a medal under the rules, which is all that happened here. Don't like it? Change the rules.