|What? Did you expect pictures of badminton players or the dude from Algeria? Walsh-Jennings and May-Treanor are the role models here!|
This may sound like Dr. J. coming to the subject late, but Dr. J. has been pondering this issue as it has evolved over the Olympics.
In the case of the individual athletes from Algeria and Great Britain, their heat/semi-final were a lost cause. They weren’t going to advance. And that is where game theory comes in. These athletes made the calculation that they already lost, and therefore, why expend energy or risk injury that would prevent them from winning their premier event. They were not affecting the outcome of their event they were participating in, as they already lost.
For the badminton players, however, the Chinese were attempting to throw their games because they were trying to affect their standing in order to have a more favorable path to victory for both of their teams. As a consequence however, they were affecting the outcome of the event they were actively participating in. Their opponents were retaliating for the very same reasons. They felt if the Chinese valued losing these round robin games, that their victories (South Korea and Indonesia) would be to their detriment, and retaliated in return.
Now Dr. J. is no fool. He has played in double elimination tournaments at soccer camp where he was on the orange team really didn’t want to play red in the next round, and would rather play blue, because he knew green could beat red and his team could beat green because of matchups. That being said, he and his peers had this thing called pride that prohibited them from throwing a game to improve their standing.
Kerry Walsh and Misty May-Traynor are of similar mind. They could not give a rat’s ass who they play. They were so focused on playing the best volleyball they could that their goals not only included a gold medal, but they did not even want to lose a set against their opponents, or even let them get to a set-point. That is an admirable competitive spirit that matches their excellence.
As a youth, when Dr. J. played soccer. in fifth grade, which is before they had a playoff system, the trophy went to the team with the best regular season record. There was a team who in the three years Papa J was coaching, never beat us. That season, in the first two matchups they did not even score a goal on us (4-0 and 2-0). They were, however, half a game ahead of us in the standings. They had defensive players, and played a defense oriented game. We, on the other hand, were an offensive juggernaut. We played with 4 men up front and our defensive strategy consisted of getting the ball back from the opponent, controlling time of possession by controlling the ball and passing a lot, and keeping the ball in their defensive half of the field. So, in that final game, they knew the could not beat us, or even score against us. They said, fine, we will play for the 0-0 tie. As there were no tie breaker beyond 2 five-minute overtimes. We had 30 shots on goal, they may have had 2 or 3. None were clean shots, as they packed it in, and none of them ended up in the net. They tied the game and won the league. Dr. J. was pissed but grudgingly admired their tactics. It was the only thing they could do if they wanted that trophy.
So Dr. J. gets what the badminton teams were doing. He doesn’t agree with it. He doesn’t like it. He finds what they were doing was wrong, unsportsmanlike and cowardly. A simple forfeit would have been wrong, but would have been more gracious. That being said, they were doing what they could to achieve their endgame within the rules as established. It may behove the IOC to look at how the games with round robin qualifiers are set up, and even bring along a mathematician who specializes in game theory to consult to insure that teams are not tempted to game the system in the future.