LONDON — A disciplinary hearing began today for eight female badminton players, including the world champions from China, after they were accused of trying to throw matches at the Olympics a day earlier to secure a favorable draw.
The Badminton World Federation said in a statement it had charged the doubles players from China, South Korea and Indonesia under its players’ code of conduct with “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”
The South Korean players and coach already have been questioned at the hearing, which is being held at a hotel near the Wembley Arena venue. Still awaiting questioning are the Chinese and Indonesian teams.
Federation spokeswoman Gayle Alleyne declined comment on possible sanctions from the hearing.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency cited an unidentified spokesman for the Chinese delegation as saying the delegation was taking the matter seriously and had ordered its own investigation.
The doubles pairs were all due to compete in quarterfinals later today.
Spectators at the arena had booed Tuesday when they realized players were deliberately trying to lose. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge had been at the venue but had left shortly before the drama unfolded. The IOC said it will allow badminton’s ruling body to handle the matter.
“We have full confidence in the federation to take any necessary steps,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “They have the experience to deal with such issues.”
Paul Deighton, chief executive officer of the London organizers, said there would be no refunds for the evening’s badminton program. Chairman Seb Coe called what happened “depressing,” adding “who wants to sit through something like that?”
Teams blamed the introduction of a round-robin stage rather than a straight knockout tournament as the main cause of the problem. In the round-robin format, losing one game can lead to an easier matchup in the next round.
The Chinese players were accused of leading the way by deliberately losing a game. This led to other teams behaving in a similar way to try to force an easier quarterfinal. At one stage, both teams appeared to be trying to lose.
World doubles champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China and their South Korean opponents, Jung Kyun-eun and Kim Ha-na, were booed loudly by the crowd after dumping serves into the net and making simple errors, such as hitting the shuttlecock wide.
The longest rally in their first game was only four strokes. The umpire warned them, and tournament referee Torsten Berg spoke to all four players, but it had little effect. At one stage, Berg showed a black card, which usually means disqualification, but the game continued.
Eventually, the Chinese women lost 21-14, 21-11 and both pairs were jeered off the court.
The teams already had qualified for the round of 16, but the result ensured that the top-seeded Wang and Yu will avoid playing their No. 2-seeded Chinese 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 also were warned for deliberately losing points in a match the Koreans won 18-21, 21-14, 21-12. The capacity crowd vented its displeasure.
“If they play right, the Chinese team, this wouldn’t happen,” South Korea coach Sung Han-kook said. “So we did the same because we don’t want to play Korea. Nobody likes playing against strong players.”
The problems began when the second-seeded Chinese pair lost unexpectedly to a Danish team. That meant that the top-seeded Chinese team would meet its Olympic teammates in the semifinals instead of the final, preventing them from winning both gold and silver.
A badminton official with knowledge of Tuesday’s developments said such situations were not rare.
“The Chinese have a habit of doing this but not at such a big event,” said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to talk publicly.
Expelling the eight players from the tournament was a possibility, he said, but that could result in China withdrawing its entire badminton team, so the federation may seek a compromise.
Yu said the Chinese were conserving energy for today’s knockout rounds.
“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.”
As today’s action began, a nearly full Wembley Arena was still buzzing about the controversy from the previous night’s play. 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.
Indonesia’s Polii added: “The referee said to us you are not playing very seriously and since he said that we felt intimidated and disturbed.”
China’s Lin Dan, the No. 2-ranked men’s singles player, said through an interpreter the sport is going to be damaged.
“Especially for the audience,” he said. “This is definitely not within the Olympic spirit. But like I said before, it’s not one-sided. Whoever sets the rule should make it knockout so whoever doesn’t try will just leave the Olympics.”
Beijing badminton silver medalist Gail Emms said the matches were embarrassing to watch, and the players could be thrown out of the tournament.
“It was absolutely shocking,” she said. “The crowds were booing and chanting, ‘Off, off, off.’ ”
She said the players in question were deliberately hitting serves into the net, serving them out or serving faults.
“This is London 2012,” Emms said. “For the future of our sport and the Olympic Games, something needs to be done.”
An online commentary by Xinhua today titled “What Shame” said deliberately losing a game to avoid a stronger opponent is common and not against the rules, but “violates the spirit and ethics of sports (and) doesn’t respect the audience.”