Beijing – A top Chinese badminton star quit the sport on Thursday as an Olympic match-throwing scandal met with dismay and criticism in China, Indonesia and South Korea, from where eight female 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 on Thursday.
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 criticised 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 apologise.
"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.
"This has not been easy for the team, the coaches, or our support team, this has not been easy for anyone," Li also told state media separately.
"I ask the fans, netizens and the people to be patient, wait until the Games are over and I will take time to give an analysis of what has happened … right now the most important thing is to play the matches well."
Her apology contrasted comments in April at the Asia Badminton Championships where she 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 the interview replayed on Thursday 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 Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog, 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."
Yu’s mother defended her daughter in a tearful interview with a local news outlet. "Yu Yang has always been obedient. It’s the same in the team. I don’t think she would have acted alone," she said.
In South Korea some sports fans posting their opinions on the popular portal Daum.net also berated the false play but blamed China as the driving force behind the match-throwing.
"Why 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 newspaper also pointed the finger at the Chinese players, whom it said first began fixing the games.
But most media and web users in South Korea expressed anger and criticised their 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," posted Shin Hyun-Dong.
Major newspaper JoongAng Ilbo said "Korean women’s badminton players have disgraced the Olympic spirit and embarrassed the country".
Indonesians shared the sense of shame over their players, Meiliana Jauhari and Polii Greysia.
"As a fan I am very disappointed. They showed a very bad sport spirit – it’s so sad considering they are the world-class players," said businessman Anton, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
"They were seeking a gold medal. They did many ways to reach the target. But that was not the good way," said Hassan Toffick, an airline instructor.
Polii apologised to fans via Twitter but also criticised the ruling. "Of course this decision made us feel down and feel unfair, but nevertheless we fought a good fight."
The 1992 Olympics badminton gold medallist Susi Susanti shared her concerns but also blamed the new competition system.
"I’m very concerned with what happened," she said on radio ElShinta.
"But I also regret the BWF’s decision that applied for the first time a competition system which gives a player a chance to lose a game in order to avoid certain opponents in the following match."