It’s a smart play, but bad sportsmanship. In a vicious, more competive world, we saw a glimpse of it at this London Olympic games.
The crowds hate it, but would you do it to get a medal? Would you “game the games”: use the rules and tournament ladder in your favour when it should be a contest of skill?
The centrepiece is “tanking” (or intentionally losing) games to get a favourable draw of opponents in the coming games. Complex league structures (which pool teams into “Groups”) that complicate the game, tempting sides such as the Australian Opals to tank to avoid prematurely facing the strong United States team. In this instance it would be better to strategically lose in preliminary rounds to change the draw to encountering weaker sides before the medal games. To the credit of the Australians, they always play to win. Tanking was most evident most in the Olympic Basketball and Badminiton events.
In Olympic Badminton, 8 players were disqualified for throwing games (teams from China, Indonesia and South Korea). If they were allowed to “throw” their games, this would have allowed these teams to avoid the Chinese top seeded players until the last round.
In Olympic Basketball, Spain and Russia are accused of tanking to avoid an earlier game against the favourites and gold medal winners, the United States. The Spainish Men’s basketball team looked suspiciously like they threw a 10 point lead against Brazil to avoid the United States. They ended up meeting the US in the finals and getting the silver medal. By this act of tanking, the Australian mens team faced the United States earlier and were knocked out before reaching a medal game.
The Russian Women’s basketball team (Eurobasket champions) similarly appeared to have a bizarre defeat against the French team. They genuinely appeared to be having an off day… but the result was a more favourable draw for them. Ultimately they did not get a medal (the French who beat them got Silver facing off against the United States).
Then there was Philip Hindes who won a Gold Medal for Great Britain in cycling admitting, “I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart.”
Is this an inversion reflective of our inversion in our society’s values? Is this “win at any cost” and “play to win” strategy that we have instilled into children who no longer fear god? They are playing to win here, to win overall, to win gold, and they are playing within the rules. There is no specific rule against tanking because it is so difficult to prove, so what is being done is technically within the rules.
Yet it doesn’t seem fair, does it?
It becomes especially tricky when officials cannot prove if a side is throwing the match intentionally or is just having an off day.
Rather than penalising those who lose intentionally, we need a rules and league structure that does not reward people who tank. Right now, there are many situations where, by playing to win a battle, teams are setting themselves up to lose a war. The temptation instead is to lose a game strategicallyto ensure a favourable draw.
The public are right when they say that watching a side throw a match to win gold is contrary to sportsmanship. The issue is, how does one adjudicate and determine that “a match has been tanked”?
Already we, as armchair critics, are riding our athletes with immense presure whenever they don’t win gold. The Olympic Games will always be full of controversial decisions, where clocks are reset adding a winning second to a fencing match, where a boxer who knocks down his opponent three times is declared the loser and two teams of world-record breaking cyclists in one event are disqualified off the podium on technicalities.
At least those ones seem fair. Tanking isn’t fair- competition should never reward intentional strategic loss. It destroys competition to do so.
(Image Courtesy of the Courier Mail)