For the past ten days, Americans have watched in awe as Olympic athletes perform feats unimaginable to us mere mortals. These men and women have trained for years – some for decades – to compete at the highest possible level and represent their country.
While competing in the Olympics is an accomplishment in and of itself, true success in London is measured in medals. What patriotic fans want and what ferociously dedicated athletes strive for are medals, more specifically, gold medals.
The athletes’ hyper-competitive spirit is why many – both here and around the world – were shocked to learn that Olympic-caliber badminton players were intentionally losing their matches. Although this doesn't appear to be a gambling-induced scandal, it is an unwelcome distraction.
Interestingly, the intentionally poor play seems to be a perverse consequence of the rules. According to the Associated Press, the women “deliberately conceded points in an apparent attempt to lose their round-robin matches to secure a more favorable spot in the next round.”
The Badminton World Federation reacted swiftly, disqualifying four women’s doubles pairs – one from China, one from Indonesia and two from South Korea – for "not using one's best efforts to win a match.” The Federation went on to say the women were conducting themselves “in a manner that is clearly abusive and detrimental to the sport."
Perhaps, but the women’s strategy was apparently shaped by the rules.
Craig Reedie, the vice president of the International Olympic Committee and former head of the badminton federation, did not blame the rules, though. Instead, he said, “sport is competitive. If you lose the competitive element, then the whole thing becomes a [sic] nonsense.” Rather than declaring the rules to be nonsense, Reedie added, “you cannot allow a player to abuse the tournament like that, and not take firm action.”
On the surface, the swift response to the allegations – and widespread condemnation –is certainly understandable. No one outside the media wants a scandal-plagued Olympics. And swift action avoids uncomfortable questions about the rules of the game.
Because what would it say about the Olympics if you could lose and still get ahead? What would it say about the Olympics if success meant more obstacles?
By now, you probably see where I am going with this.
Our increasing dependency upon government creates the same type of moral hazards that caused Olympic badminton players to lose...intentionally.