London. World doubles champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China and their South Korean opponents were booed loudly for appearing to try and lose their Olympic badminton group match in Wembley Arena on Tuesday to earn an easier draw.
Wang and Yu and the team of Jung Kyun-eun and Kim Ha-na dumped serves into the net and made simple errors. The longest rally was only four strokes in the first game. The umpire warned them and tournament referee Torsten Berg spoke to all four players but it had little effect.
Eventually, the Chinese women lost 21-14, 21-11 and both pairs were jeered off the court.
The teams had already qualified for the last 16, but the result ensured that the top-seeded Wang and Yu will avoid playing their No. 2-seeded teammates until the final.
The problem was repeated in the next women’s doubles between South Korea’s Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung and Indonesia’s Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii. Both teams were also warned for deliberately losing points in a match the Koreans won 18-21, 21-14, 21-12. The capacity crowd vented their displeasure on them, too.
“If they play right, the Chinese team, this wouldn’t happen,” said South Korea head coach Sung Han-kook. “So we did the same because we don’t want to play Korea. Nobody likes playing against strong players.”
The eight women players were charged by the sport’s governing body on Wednesday with “not using one’s best efforts to win a match.”
The matches appeared to be an attempt to manipulate the final standings in the first-round group stage with two pairs who had already qualified from the group stage jockeying to play against weaker opponents.
But Yu said they were only trying to save energy for the knockout rounds starting on Wednesday.
“We would try hard in every match if they were elimination games,” she said. “Because they are group stage that’s why we are conserving energy.
“If we’re not playing the best it’s because it doesn’t matter — if we’re the first or the second [in the group] we’re already through. The most important thing is the elimination match tomorrow.”
The South Koreans filed a protest with the referees.
“It’s not like the Olympics spirit to play like this,” Sung Han-kook said. “How could the No. 1 pair in the world play like this? They start playing mistakes.”
Australia coach Lasse Bundgaard blamed the group format for the controversy.
“It’s not good when you create a tournament where the players are put in this situation,” he said. “If you can win a medal by losing, but not by winning, that’s not a good situation to be put in.
“I totally understand why they are doing it. Now the Indonesians are doing the same but it’s not a good situation to be put in.”
Jauhari said she couldn’t understand why the South Korean coaches protested their amount of errors.
Polii added: “The referee said to us you are not playing very seriously and since he said that we felt intimidated and disturbed.”