The Olympic Scandal: Sportsmanship Issue or Poor Strategy?
Pramudya A Oktavinanda
The recent Olympics badminton scandal is very interesting. From a legal perspective, the answer is quite clear. The players deliberately tried to lose against each other, so they breached the Olympic rule of doing their best in each competition. Case closed.
But surely we can’t stop there. Why should we have that kind of rule in the first place? Why should we prohibit the players from choosing a rational strategy when the competition rules allow that possibility?
Is this all about sportsmanship? Like in that various martial arts stories where the fighters are always trying to fight fair and square in order to gain the sweetest victory? Or is it something else?
As a spectator, I don’t mind if the players deliberately tried to lose in order to gain victory later. The problem is, it seems that I am in the minority group. Like it or not, the idea that sport competitions should be held in accordance with the highest moral principles still lives on until today.
And the case is even stronger for the Olympic which serves as the ultimate symbol of fair competition. People want their symbol to be incorruptible. If even the players in such important event cannot meet such requirement, where else should the people look for virtue?
In this case, the rational act of the players seem to be irrational. While it is true that each player has the right incentive to win the game (including trying to lose first), they seem to forget that they are not alone in the competition.
Olympic is a big business. Sure people need a huge symbol of fairness and virtue but they would be crazy if they conduct the Olympic solely for such reason. In other words, the Olympic is conducted in that way because it is profitable for the organizer — or at least they think that it would be profitable for them.
Thus, images hold a very important position in the competition. If the organizer can’t maintain the image that the game is fair and all the players are doing their best, it will be difficult to maintain the credibility of the competition and it would affect the number of viewers.
The players — and their coaches — should put this in mind when they choose their strategy. What I see now is a foolish act, not because it was irrational, but because it was executed poorly.
Had these players realize the reality of the game and how people perceive them, they might try to lose the game elegantly. Unfortunately, trying to lose is a little bit too difficult for them.
I read in the news that people were already booing them and the referee has warned the players that if they continued to play like that, they might be disqualified. So yes, the way they executed their plan was too obvious.
So, the punishment is well deserved. Not because they fail to maintain sportsmanship, but rather because they fail to entertain the spectators and risk the overall image of the Olympic game.
Another interesting thing is the fact that some of the coaches asked the Olympic organizer to change the rule of the game to prevent such cases happening again in the future.
If the rule does not permit any possibility to pick your future competitor, the players might fully engage their true power from the beginning since nothing could be done anyway.
But once they see a slight chance to choose their future competitor, their strategy significantly changes. The question is: Is it the mistake of the organizer for making a rule that induce the players and coachers to pick such strategy?
I don’t think so. The rule of the game is clear: How players cope with the rule is their own business and if they are really smart, they should choose a strategy that will benefit them the most while minimizing the cost.
Clearly the players fail to study the costs and benefits of their action and they have to pay dearly for that. I can only hope that this could serve a good lesson for them, especially the Indonesian contingent. Better luck next time.