The Worst Thing an Olympic Athlete Can Do Is Try to Lose

And that's why everyone involved in the badminton match-throwing scandal should be banned from the Games for life.

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AP Images

The biggest story of the Olympics so far is not the U.S. women's gymnastics team winning all-around gold or the exploits of the U.S. men's basketball team or the sizzling tennis action taking place at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon. It's not even Michael Phelps' record-setting Olympic medals.

No, the leading Olympic storyline after six days of competition is an abject breakdown of the competitive integrity of seemingly the entire women's badminton field. And it's a scandal that demands the harshest of responses.

Four pairs of athletes in the women's team competition—the No. 1-ranked squad from China, both South Korea teams and an Indonesian squad—deliberately tried to lose their early-round matches in an attempt to get more favorable matchups in the quarterfinals. The tankapalooza led to a perverse scene in London, with announcers and fans reacting first with disbelief, then with disgust as the eight women spat in the face of the "integrity of the game", the touchstone on which the entire Olympics are based.

The Associated Press explains:

For the badminton players, the moral question was somewhat more complex. Badminton was introduced at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, but this is the first time it has included a round-robin format before win-or-go-home tournament play.

The chain of manipulation was set in motion when a team from Denmark unexpectedly beat the second-seeded team in the tournament, from China. By all accounts, that match was decided fairly.

The loss put the Chinese team on course to face their compatriots, world doubles champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu, in the semifinals, not the finals, as expected.

Wang and Yu then set out to lose so they would go into the bottom half of the draw. They hardly exerted themselves - and neither did their opponents, the South Koreans, drawing jeers from the crowd and warnings from the umpire.

Wang and Yu ultimately proved better at losing.

The lust for loss spread to the other South Korean team and the squad from Indonesia, who both knew that a win would put them in the quarterfinals against the top-ranked team of Wang and Yu. So when they played later Tuesday, both sides hit the shuttlecock into the net time after time after time. The match umpire eventually disqualified both teams for not trying to win, a rationale that would have been stupefying if it weren't true. Both teams promised to play "better" and the match was reinstated, but the following day Olympic officials booted all four teams from the tournament.

Some have blamed the round-robin format for encouraging teams to lose to improve their position, while others said the coaches are the real culprits here. No. No. No. We're talking about eight Olympic athletes, competing in the pinnacle event of their sport, abjuring the Olympic motto of "Faster, Higher, Stronger" for "Slower, Lower, Loser".

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Jake Simpson is a New York-based writer.

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