A top Chinese badminton star quit the sport yesterday as an Olympic match-throwing scandal met with dismay and criticism in China, Indonesia and South Korea, from where eight players were disqualified.
The Badminton World Federation’s move to eject a Chinese, an Indonesian and two South Korean duos for failing to play their best marked the first major scandal of the Games and prompted China’s Yu Yang to retire from the sport.
Sports fans and the media in all three countries expressed disappointment, with some saying it was humiliating to have their national players implicated in the scandal, while others were sympathetic to the athletes.
“Match-fixing tramples on sports ethics and shouldn’t be tolerated,” an opinion piece in China’s state-run Global Times said yesterday.
The paper was among several news outlets and many ordinary citizens from the Asian countries to suggest that the new round-robin format motivated players to lose, though most agreed that nothing excused match-throwing.
China roundly criticized the incident and, alone among the three countries, declined to appeal the decision to disqualify the athletes.
Its sports delegation urged Yu, her partner Wang Xiaoli and head badminton coach Li Yongbo to publicly apologize. State-run media also highlighted the national team’s history of “losing on purpose.”
“Chinese players failed to demonstrate the fine tradition and fighting spirit of the national team. It’s me to blame,” Xinhua news agency quoted Li as saying on Wednesday.
His apology contrasted earlier comments in April at the Asia Badminton Championships where he endorsed the strategy of holding back early in competitions to save energy for later rounds.
“This is not a question of unfairness, there are certain rules that have been set, so everyone has to play within the rules,” Li said in an April interview replayed yesterday by Beijing Television. “Of course, the foreign teams want to see our players go at it with everything they have. They want us to fight like bulls, with one dying and the other injured. Then this way they don’t need to compete.”
Shortly after her public apology, Yu announced on a Chinese microblogging site that she planned to quit the sport.
“This is my last time competing. Goodbye Badminton World Federation, goodbye my beloved badminton,” she posted. “After working hard and dealing with injuries to prepare, [you] say we’re disqualified and we’re disqualified. You have heartlessly shattered our dreams.”
Some South Korean sports fans posting their opinions also berated the false play, but blamed China as the driving force behind the match-throwing.
“Why [South] Korea and Indonesia?” said Whoohaha, among several South Koreans to blame the Chinese and cast their players as victims. “It’s all because of Chinese.”
South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo also pointed the finger at the Chinese players, whom it said first began fixing the games, but most media and Web users expressed anger and criticized the players — Jung Kyung-eun, Kim Ha-na, Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung.
“It’s a dirty act that goes against sports and the Olympics. They don’t deserve to play sports. Everyone including the coaches should get a 10-year ban,” Shin Hyun-dong posted.
South Korea’s major newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, said: “[South] Korean women’s badminton players have disgraced the Olympic spirit and embarrassed the country.”