The biggest scandal at the summer Olympics in London didn’t involve doping, or boorish behavior by athletes or judges tipping the results.
No, the biggest scandal came out of the badminton competition, shocking the sport’s fanatic followers in Asia and leaving the rest of the world snickering at cheating in badminton, of all things.
But there it was as clear as HDTV — players capable of firing shuttlecocks off their rackets at as much as 200 mph were lightly lofting the birdie, often directly into the net or out of bounds. The crowds at the Wembley Arena booed and hissed and the sport’s quadrennial international spotlight turned to embarrassment and ridicule.
Eight women playing on four doubles teams from South Korea, Indonesia and China were tossed out of the Olympics for deliberately trying to lose matches. These were some of the top athletes in the sport. They were actually adapting to a new format for the Olympics in which losers in early matches could still advance to later rounds. They took the strategic step of losing on purpose so they would face easier opponents later.
Now, three months later, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) has acted to restore confidence and respectability to the sport by tweaking the doubles format for the next Olympics in Brazil in 2016.
But the group did not eliminate the controversial pool play that premiered in London and permitted losers in early matches to advance to later rounds.
The tweaked format puts early-round losers in a draw so they can’t predict who their later opponents might be. Winners in early rounds would be assigned to matches in later rounds in a format equivalent to seeding the teams.
"This will eliminate any player’s thoughts about actively trying to lose a match or matches, irrespective of other match results," said BWF secretary general Thomas Lund in a statement issued at a meeting in Bangkok.
Lundalso said the BWF has determined it cannot respond to demands for punishment for any coaches and athlete who may have encouraged the London athletes to deliberately lose.
"It is not legally feasible for the BWF to take further action against any coaches or entourages with regards to the case at the London Olympics," Lund said.
Two Korean coaches had already been banned for life for by the Korean Badminton Federation, but an appeal reduced the bans to two years.
Lund added that the BWF strengthened its code of conduct so that coaches and team officials can be sanctioned for encouraging players to violate badminton federation rules. The BWF is also relying on an educational campaign to keep coaches and players from attempting scandalous play in the future.
"The BWF very much believes in the power of education to solve any such issue connected to ethical standards," Lund added.
The changes, Lund concluded, "ensure such a regrettable spectacle is never witnessed in badminton again."
In another development, badminton will soon mimic other sports — and this is no joke — with instant replays triggered by challenges from players.
Players have questioned the ability of referees to accurately call shots close to the out-of-bounds lines given the high speed of a flying shuttlecock. So, BWF deputy president Paisan Rangsikitpho said the group will experiment with player challenges to line calls and referee review of slow motion replays.
"The technology is available and it is a progressive step that will improve badminton significantly and give players a greater sense of ease and fair play on the court," Rangsikitpho said in a statement.
Instant replays begin on a trial basis next year.
This is clearly not your backyard badminton.