In badminton, as in other events, the Olympic spirit must be protected
ORIGINATING in Olympia, Greece, as long ago as 776 BC, the ancient Olympic Games fell by the wayside due to its purported "pagan" influences. Nevertheless, they remained in memory as a sporting spectacle to showcase the exceptional excellence of young talent while at the same time cultivating good relationships between players -- the frequently warring cities of ancient Greece. Some 1,500 years later the Games were revived by a young French aristocrat who blamed France's defeat to Prussia in 1870 on a lack of vigour among French soldiers rather than Prussian military prowess. Pierre de Coubertin, after comparing the education systems of Germany, Britain and America, concluded that sports were essential to producing well-rounded persons.
Given this history, it is natural that the Olympic Games is all about excellence within the defining philosophy of unimpeachable fraternal sportsmanship and the oath taken at the beginning of the global sporting assembly by participants is witness to this emphasis. When, therefore, four doubles pairs in the women's badminton events were promptly kicked out of the 2012 London Games for attempting to fix their matches, few could object. Sports officials from the three countries concerned accepted responsibility, reflecting the outrage of their governments and publics. As much as the newly introduced round-robin group system had a role in creating a perverse incentive to throw matches for easier berths later, the onus remains on the athletes, both men and women, to keep their oath and compete to the best of their abilities.
Much blame, however, can still be laid on the desire of and enormous pressure on athletes to win at all costs. More is now at stake than Coubertin could ever have imagined. During the Cold War the Games were so politicised that when it was hosted by Moscow in the summer of 1980 the United States led a boycott that reduced the total participation to 80 countries. The current Olympics has 200 participating countries sending 10,000 athletes to compete in 300 events, with all of them not just competing for the pleasure of taking part but for national and personal glory and reward. And, on the part of the athletes who, though participating as amateurs, have sacrificed entire lives and are sometimes blinded by the lure of financial gain, winning becomes an absolute imperative. For them, manipulation and even cheating is acceptable. Thankfully, the majority of the world's leading athletes adhere faithfully to the Games' ideals and few were not grateful to the Badminton World Federation for acting firmly and swiftly in upholding the spirit that is the Olympic Games.