Spirit of sport infringed but not the law


LONDON (Reuters) - Eight women badminton players disqualified from the London Olympics on Wednesday for deliberately trying to lose their doubles matches have been punished for infringing the spirit of their sport but not the rules.

The distinction is important after comments this year from International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge that manipulating results for financial gain was now a bigger threat to the Games than drugs.

No such allegation could be levelled against the players from China, Indonesia and South Korea on a farcical evening at Wembley Arena on Tuesday when they deliberately hit shots out of court and dumped serves into the net.

Each of the four doubles teams was trying to exploit the round-robin format introduced at the London Games to get a more favourable draw when the knockout stages start.

"Who would want to sit through something like that?" London organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe said on Wednesday. "It is unacceptable."

Illustrating the grey areas in elite sport, the world governing soccer body FIFA took a different approach on Tuesday.

World champions Japan played for a draw against South Africa in a women's soccer match to ensure they qualified for the quarter-finals but remained in Cardiff rather than travel to Glasgow. In this case, FIFA ruled that no action would be taken because there was no collusion between the teams.

FIFA changed its rules after West Germany and Austria colluded in a 1982 World Cup match, won 1-0 by the Germans. The result ensured both teams advanced at the expense of Algeria who had already played their final group match.

Final group match games are now played simultaneously so that the teams do not know the score they would need to arrange a desirable result.

WINNING AT ALL COSTS

Playing to win at all costs, which includes playing to the limits of the rules, has been engrained in the modern Olympics since their inception in 1896 as a multi-sports competition played strictly by amateurs.

The British ideal of gentlemen playing games for fun was never shared across the Atlantic.

"The class system which was rigid in Britain was not so rigid in America," observed John Bryant, author of "The Marathon Makers" which examines the 1908 London Games. "They didn't care. They didn't care if their athletes were professional."

From the 1950s through to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, doping was endemic in the United States, the Soviet Union and East Germany when the Olympic medals table became an extension of the Cold War. When the Olympics went professional in the 1980s there was now another incentive to dope, leading to the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Rogge's concerns, expressed at an anti-corruption symposium at the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne, follow match-fixing scandals in international cricket, European soccer leagues, and tennis.

But there has been no evidence of pre-arranged results, which are of particular benefit to the illegal betting syndicates which flourish in Asia, at either the last summer or winter Games.

Ultimately all the badminton players are guilty of is misjudging the wider impact of their decision to use short-term tactics for long-time gains. They could also argue that track athletes and swimmers race only as fast as they need to qualify in the early rounds.

China's men's singles champion Lin Dan agreed on Tuesday that their actions were not in the spirit of the Games but said it was the system that was at fault.

"Why would the tournament rules people have (a format) like this?" he asked. "If they just had a knockout round it would all be fine. You lose and that's it."

(Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Mike Collett; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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