Games shine light on badminton intrigue

Suspicious injuries, sudden illnesses and patently playing to lose -- match-throwing has a long history in badminton, but the London Olympics format made this an accident waiting to happen.

Seasoned observers are wearily familiar with the tricks pulled to avoid a difficult opponent or a team-mate, either to avert the chance of injury or boost a ranking.

The practice, they say, goes back decades. But the unusual group system at the London Olympics, where players can avoid tough quarter-finals by not finishing top, opened the competition up to manipulation.

"It was clear what was going to happen because so many people pointed out how the rules could be bent," said former Olympic silver medallist Gail Emms.

Four women's doubles pairs were disqualified from the London Olympics Wednesday after group matches that were so lamentable they were booed off court.

Chinese top seeds Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli were among the eight who were seen deliberately serving into the net and hitting the shuttlecock out. In one match, none of the rallies was longer than four shots.

"What happened clearly brought sport into disrepute. It was shameful. It's the worst thing I've seen in 30 years," said veteran BBC TV commentator David Mercer.

For fans, the scenes were not so surprising.

At last year's Singapore Open, Chinese great Lin Dan incensed a packed crowd when he withdrew from his final against compatriot Chen Jin, citing illness.

At the Thomas and Uber Cup in May, Chinese head coach Li Yongbo hit out when two Indonesian singles players handed out walkovers in their last group matches, after their team had already qualified.

"The media only talk about it when it's China's players," grumbled Li.

They are among innumerable examples of sharp practice on the badminton circuit -- including many involving China, the sport's dominant power.

According to badminton website Badzine, in 2011 some 20 percent of top-level matches involving only Chinese players were not completed. When facing non-Chinese competitors, the figure fell to 0.74 percent.

Some players argue that the London eight should not be blamed, but were simply taking advantage of the group format, which was re-introduced for the London Olympics after a gap of 16 years.

"I don't actually blame the players at all for what happened. They were only playing the system that was put in place," said Britain's Emms.

"It was the new system that was wrong. The BWF (Badminton World Federation) was warned about it, but they decided to introduce it for the Olympics, of all occasions."

Sources say badminton's Olympic status has been at risk in recent years after highly divisive internal politics which reportedly brought a private warning from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The scandal is likely to force the BWF to scrap the Olympic group format and tighten up its disciplinary system, they say.

But the Olympic body's spokesman said it was a "long, long, long away" from considering badminton's future in the Games, which dates back to 1992.

"Clearly the IOC will be looking at what actions they take, but we fully support them and we know they have our support," he said.

Badminton was also embroiled in controversy last year, when it tried to force women's players to wear skirts or dresses to boost audiences, before scrapping the move after complaints it was sexist.

Suspicious injuries, sudden illnesses and patently playing to lose -- match-throwing has a long history in badminton, but the London Olympics format made this an accident waiting to happen.