Anna Rice: Badminton DQs were right move

Not only has the Olympic badminton controversy given Canada's women's doubles team of Alex Bruce and Michele Li a strong chance at Canada's first Olympic medal, the top officials in the sport acted swiftly and commendably, writes former Olympian Anna Rice.
Wang Xiaoli and Yang Yu of China, right, leave the court with Ha Na Kim and Kyung Eun Jung of South Korea after their widely panned badminton match on Tuesday. (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

I’m not going to lie, I’m happy this whole scandal went down.

Not only has it given our women’s doubles team of Alex Bruce and Michele Li a second chance at Canada’s first Olympic medal in the sport of badminton, it has also guaranteed (finally!) some significant media coverage of our sport here at home.

This fiasco has also shed some — OK, a lot of — light on the issue of match fixing, a nasty affliction that affects several Olympic sports (just ask Henry Kissinger and the rest of the FIFA anti-corruption squad to name an example), and an issue which has afflicted our sport for over 30 years.

This scandal has rocketed badminton into the mainstream media spotlight the world over, with commentators arguing over who is most to blame.

Was it the new BWF (Badminton World Federation) system, which encouraged teams to tactically lose round-robin matches to secure a more favourable draw in the elimination rounds?

Was it the coaches, who undoubtedly asked the athletes to lose and avoid the tougher opponents in the knockout rounds?

Was it the athletes, who, at the Olympics, should be compelled to give their utmost effort under the watchful eye of the global media?

I say it was a combination of all of the above. But that’s not my point. What the mainstream media has missed is the opportunity to applaud the Badminton World Federation for an extremely courageous gesture in the face of a few of its most powerful stakeholders.

The BWF, whose political and financial strongholds are traditionally located in China, Indonesia and Korea, disqualified athletes from each of these countries, and inside sources claim that the decision was taken despite threats from China that it would pull its entire team from the Olympic badminton competition in protest.

Furthermore, the decision to disqualify the Chinese women’s doubles team will likely cause serious financial blowback in the coming two years, which the BWF understood full well before pulling the DQ trigger.

What’s more, the president of our world body, Mr. Kang Young Joong of Korea — himself a former president of the Korean Badminton Federation — would have had to approve this decision to disqualify these four teams.

All of the disqualified are medal contenders, and two of them hail from his home country. Mr. Kang’s personal profile could take a big hit in his home country as a result of this decision.

Critics will argue that this newly implemented pool play system was flawed, and surely it was. The pool play should have consisted of a blind crossover, which would remove the incentive to throw the matches. The BWF will almost certainly alter, if not eliminate, this system all together in time for the Rio Olympics in four years.

However, our sport’s world leaders have done the right thing by upholding the rules of the BWF’s Player Code of Conduct and by taking a firm moral stance in favour of the Olympic ideals.

It's easy for us to argue over who made this mess and indeed there are many culprits.

But I would like to acknowledge and appreciate that this time, with the world watching, someone had the courage to clean it up instead of passing the buck.

Anna Rice is a two-time Olympian in badminton and the head coach at Badminton-Vancouver (