Bye, bye birdie: Badminton scandal a new low even for the Olympics

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The eight players are from China, South Korea and Indonesia. They are accused of "not using one's best efforts to win a match," according to Craig Reedie, vice president of the International Olympic Committee, an organization that passionately believes in fair play when it is convenient. The tipoff was that the players all wore New Orleans Hornets jerseys.

The eight players had already qualified for the elimination round when they stopped trying. Naturally, I assumed they were trying to save energy, since we all know that badminton is exhausting, especially if you play while dealing with a painful physical condition, like being sober. But as it turns out, this crazy, twisted, horrifying tale of international deception and intrigue is more complicated than that.

Evidently, the players tried to lose to set up an easier matchup in the next round. This is just ridiculous. I don't want to sound like a cranky old man here, but I grew up in the era when you knew your honor was on the line every time you grabbed that shuttlecock. This is a disgrace to the people who built this sport, all of whom most likely have names.

Inevitably, more sordid details will emerge. Badminton insiders fear the involvement of the sport's most notorious shadowy figure, Worldwide Wuss, who was last seen shaking the hands of several players while whispering into a cellphone he held in his other hand and dialing another cellphone with his third hand.

I understand the IOC's shock and outrage here. After all, when it set up a format that rewards players for losing, who ever could have foreseen that players would try to get rewarded for losing? What a stunning turn of events!

The eight accused players must be filled with regret -- not so much for throwing the matches, but for throwing the matches poorly. There is an art to throwing a badminton match. Or so I hear. Your serves have to be slightly out of bounds. You have to curse yourself, limp a little, and writhe in pain while deftly popping open the ketchup packets you have taped to your chest. Then people will admire you for battling through adversity, and if you do go on to win a medal, you can cash in with endorsements.

So now what happens? The players who tried to lose so they could win end up disgraced. The players who thought they won honestly must feel deflated. Fans who bought tickets will not get their money back, because, well, because the IOC already deposited the money in its checking account, and would anybody like tickets to the cycling?

And while badminton is an obscure, easily mocked sport, it is a sport, and one thing I have noticed from covering three Olympics is that no matter what sport I watched, I was amazed at how good the Olympians were. Being an Olympian badminton player is not easy. And it's a shame that these folks reached the peak of their sport, only to walk into a farce. There are no winners here. Literally.