No, for love of winning the medal. Four teams are disqualified from badminton in the London Olympics. Why? For doing what any rational person would do when confronted with the particular bracket system that existed for badminton: they intentionally lost matches that would not eliminate them but would give them easier subsequent rounds of competition. Sounds like a pretty good strategy to me.

Look, if you don’t want this kind of behavior to happen then you can’t incentivize it. You have to change the bracket structure to be something like single elimination or double elimination with the worst first-round losing teams playing the best first-round winning teams.

Here is an excerpt from the article in which the athletes defend themselves and are defended (very rationally so):

“The Chinese did not appeal their suspension and defended their approach. “We would try hard in every match if they were elimination games,” Yu said. “Because they are group stage, that’s why we are conserving energy.”

Lin Dan, the top-ranked men’s singles player, stood by his Chinese teammates and blamed the federation for not anticipating that this strategy might be used. “Think in the U.K.: would your football team want to meet Spain in the first round?” he asked after winning a match on Wednesday. “Athletes think for themselves and would have their best interests at heart.” “

And here is a nonsensical critic:

” “It’s perfectly legal but morally indefensible,” said John MacGloughlin, a Briton who has played club-level badminton for 30 years and paid almost $50 to attend Wednesday’s afternoon session. “At that level, you don’t do that.” “

First of all, clearly athletes are doing that. Secondly, you get what you pay for; or, in this case, you get what tournament organizers build into the bracketing system. If you’re trying for gold (or silver or bronze) you do exactly what Lin Dan (above) says you do: you play strategically.

And here is an example (from the same article) of this happening in soccer:

“And badminton was not the only sport in which teams trotted through a preliminary-round game. On Tuesday, in Cardiff, Wales, the Japanese women’s soccer team, the 2011 World Cup champion, played to a scoreless tie against a much weaker South African side.

The tie, as opposed to a win, meant that the Japanese, who had already qualified for the knockout round, avoided having to travel to Glasgow to play France in the quarterfinals. Instead, they will remain in Cardiff and play Brazil.”

Incentives matter.

-JD Cross

 

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