Olympic stain — A. Lin Neumann
AUG 5 — Two Indonesian badminton players were disqualified from the London Olympic Games this week for trying to lose an early round match in the latest scandal to hit the world of international sport.
Wait a minute. Badminton scandal? That’s just weird.
How does it happen that a sport I associate with backyard barbecues has tarnished the Olympic ideal? Just because losing small early can mean winning big later at a badminton tournament, Indonesia’s women’s doubles team joined six other players from China and South Korea in having to pack their bags early from London.
The way it happened — and why — just seems to confirm what a sorry spectacle the Olympics has become. The Games are one big hypefest of money and power. Starting with opening ceremonies that grow bigger, gaudier and less tasteful with each edition, an international gathering that once seemed at least somewhat dignified and dedicated to real achievement is now more like a vast reality show.
This year, the poster child for the debasement of sport is badminton, where teams from the three disqualified countries pranced around the court throwing errant shots into the net until the crowd of customers inside Wembley Arena showered them with boos and the referees had to stop the matches.
Former world and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat, a genuine hero here in Indonesia who lost early to a Chinese player and is out of medal contention, called the performance “a circus” and said all the teams involved in the rigged matches should be sent home even before the Badminton World Federation banned them from the Games. “If they are going to be disqualified then I’m happy,” Taufik said.
Refreshingly, the Indonesian coach admitted what was going on after his players, Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari, successfully lost to South Korea and thus ducked an early round test against world champions Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli of China.
Now everybody is going home, but the reaction from the sport’s governing body, which said the conduct was “clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport,” seemed a bit late. Published reports said such match-fixing is well-known in the badminton world.
The issue this time around just got out of hand. Indeed, it was almost comical, as if Sacha Baron Cohen was making a spoof Olympics documentary. Unfortunately, looked at from the vantage point of what today’s athletics have become, it all seemed sadly understandable. Indeed, the coach of Japan’s women’s football team said his squad had similarly failed to score during a 0-0 draw with winless South Africa to avoid the inconvenience of traveling to Glasgow for the elimination round.
The badminton fiasco exposes the unpleasantness that infects the Games, which have become money mad. Indonesian athletes stand to get a Rp 1 billion (RM318,000) prize from the government if they win a gold medal for a country that is a perennial also-ran in international competitions. That is certainly enough money to encourage most anyone to drive through a loophole like match-fixing.
The modern Olympics is about just two things — power and money. First, power. The Chinese athletic machine is only the latest sign that the Olympics are an index of world supremacy. The medal tally in the US vs. China competition is seen as an indication of global success, as if gymnasts and sprinters were strategic assets. It is an equation that harkens back to the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
But it was America’s “dream team” of professional basketball superstars in 1992 that set the stage for what the Games have become. The United States so loathed having seen a team of its college all-stars settle for bronze in 1988 that it permanently voided the Olympic ideal by bringing in the likes of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan to bash around lesser mortals.
It is that spirit of winning big and using big money to win that has turned the Olympics into just another professional sporting event. So I’ll join the badminton players on the sidelines — I prefer watching reruns of “CSI” or “Dexter” on cable. It seems more honest somehow. — Jakarta Globe
* A. Lin Neumann, founding editor of the Jakarta Globe, is the host of the “Insight Indonesia” talk show on BeritaSatu TV.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.