For four years, maybe many more, you’ve been working towards an Olympic gold medal. Your struggle has carried you into the quarter-final of your chosen sport. Win that match and the next for a silver medal; win the final for gold.
But first you have one more group match to play. The result matters little, for you’ve already secured your quarter-final place.
How hard are you going to fight?
Not 110%. Sure, there are people out there who think giving 100% is just lazy, but frankly giving anything more is impossible. Let’s move on.
Will you give 100%? Probably not. To what end? Why would you? In the hunt for a medal, expending everything for no gain is both fruitless and counterproductive. In the case of the badminton match between Yu Yang & Wang Xiaoli (China) and Jung Kyung-eun & Kim Ha-na (South Korea), fighting for a win would have been doubly counter-productive. Winning would merely have secured them a tougher draw in the quarter-final.
So it was nonsensical to give their best efforts, as Olympic rules demand. Note that by ‘best efforts’, I mean 100%. I mean giving it one’s all: straining every sinew for every point; finishing the match physically and mentally spent; fighting as if for gold. Who would do that? Did Michael Phelps give it 100% in the heats of his best events? Will Usain Bolt give it 100% in the heats of the 100m? I doubt it.
The South Korean coach, Sung Han-kook, rather unsatisfactorily, said “The Chinese started this. They did it first.” For the sake of argument, let’s accept his point. The South Korean players were giving it 100% at the start of the match. Perhaps! And the Chinese were giving it 90%. If the match had proceeded like thus, then we would have been none the wiser. Jung and Kim would have won. The untrained eye would not have spotted the travesty before it.
But (still accepting the South Korean coach’s argument) at some point, Jung and Kim must have realised the Chinese were playing to lose. So they too lowered their game. From that point, it became something of a Dutch auction in the ill-fated chase for defeat.
The spectacle was painful to watch. See the match in full here (UK only).
Quite rightly, the audience wants to see the world’s top athletes playing at the top of their game. And the Olympic rules demand that they do just that. But I contend this is a rule that is routinely flouted. It’s just that when two opponents both seek to lose, then inevitably they will both be found out.
Eight players in total (including another four from South Korea & Indonesia) have now been disqualified. In this case, that judgement was quite right. But this was not the first time such gamesmanship has been found in the Olympics, and it will not be the last. Rather than try to enforce a rule which is at times perverse, the IOC should consider how the contests are structured, to remove the incentive for athletes to give anything less than 100%.