NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The badminton ‘fixing’ looks terrible. If you watch the video you’ll see Olympic athletes intentionally serving into the net, or hitting out-of-bounds on purpose. This was a way of avoiding the Chinese team that has the world’s number-one player by manipulating the draw in the next round of competition.
Part of the problem is that the world has only a passing interest in badminton and only once every four years. People who follow badminton all the time know that manipulating the draw in the knock-out round is common. Within China several matches were listed as ‘walk overs’ or ‘foreits’ in their qualifying tournaments – where one team simply quit to get a more favorable match-up in the finals. That’s not allowed in the Olympics.
I know another sport where not everyone is trying to win.
In horse racing there may be several horses that are not competing to win. These races are not ‘fixed’. Sometimes horses are races for different goals down the road, not necessarily to win today’s race. Part of picking a winner involves deciding which horses are ‘well meant’ and which ones aren’t.
Sky Beauty was a very classy filly who raced in the early 90s in New York. Her owners wanted her to win the Coaching Club American Oaks, a prestigious 1 ¼ mile race run each summer at Belmont Park. The horse usually wintered inFlorida, and goes back into training in the spring. Her first race of the year was a 7-furlong sprint against allowance-level horses. Her opponents weren't slouches, but Sky Beauty was the class of the field. Yet it’s the first time she’s raced in 5-months, at a distance much shorter than she usually runs. Sky Beauty is clearly not supposed to win this race. It’s a warm-up for bigger things to come. She’s just stretching her legs. Her jockey might even be told not to use the whip. Now it’s entirely possible that Sky Beauty towers over her competition and will win anyway. If it does, it’s a happy accident.
A lower-level horse is racing with blinkers for the first time. Usually a trainer would see how the horse responds to the new equipment with a morning workout a week or two before racing. But sometimes because of rain or scheduling, workouts get cancelled – and the experiment is tried on-track during a race. The trainer tells his jockey, “She’s wearing the hood for the first time. Let’s see how she does.” Every jockey knows that his instructions are just to get the horse around the track safely.
Sometimes a stable will run two horses in the same race. One rushes to the lead and sets an unreasonably fast pace. This 'rabbit' is suppsed to tire, hopefully setting up a rally late in the race by its stable-mate.
Sometimes at the end of the racing season a horse racing in a claiming race – not with the intention of winning – but in the hope that another owner will be interested in buying the horse.
It’s not unheard of for a sprinter-horse to be entered in a long-distance race to build up stamina. A horse with a good ‘bottom’ under him might be ready to win the next time.
The difference in all these cases is that horses aren’t human, and sometimes they win in spite of themselves. And in each race there are other horses that are, indeed, trying to win. In some badminton matches both teams were trying to lose.
I’m not sure if there should be a penalty. If the ultimate goal is to win the overall badminton tournament, losing a preliminary match could be part of a broader strategy. Is it much different than an intentional walk in baseball? An onside kick in football?
We may be too quick to judge a sport we know nothing about.