Badminton players "cheated" to win. Do poor rules undermine the spirit of the Olympics?

Four Badminton teams, two from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia were disqualified from the Olympic badminton event because—according to sections 4.5 and 4.6 of the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) Player Code of Conduct—the players “did not use the best efforts to win,” the New York Times reports.

Surely, the BWF means physical, perhaps ethical, efforts—because after all, this is the Olympics and not an easily exploitable system of rules that causes transgression known to occur in pool play, which was just introduced into Olympic badminton this year. Presumably, each team threw their matches with hopes of an easier path to victory, in light of the round-robin tournament in which you vie for the best tournament seeding. Already qualified, the teams could use a loss to face an easier team in the elimination tournament to follow.

Nevermind the code of conduct—the rules encourage the strategy. Either that or they were “saving energy,” or so the players claim. It’s just no fun for spectators. The benefits of round-robin play is more time and egalitarian play, perhaps clearly determine who is the best because of a greater scoring sample. But more playtime means more time to watch, even a larger audience. The uproar was caused when the audience reacted to the match, jeering “Off, off, off” and booing the teams until they were warned to play with greater physical exertion. According to the BBC:

London 2012 chairman Lord Coe said the scandal was bad news for the games and “unacceptable”.

“It was “depressing – who wants to sit through something like that?” he said.”

Of course, the story is about the perceived ethics and “spirit” of the Olympics. It varies from game to game, but for larger, more spectator-friendly sports, does nationalism outweight monetary reward? Is the medal worth passivity?

What’s also depressing—as we revel in this gray area—are the unspoken ethics of multiplayer exploits like spawn camping. If anything, this doesn’t reveal the “spirit” so much as the designers responsibility in constructing a more perfect system—one that encourages this spirit.

The BWF’s decision replace single elimination with round robin for 2012 remains ambiguous.