Eight badminton players were today thrown out of London 2012 after their attempts to massage placings outraged paying spectators and dragged the sport's Olympic tournament into dark farce.
More than 12 hours after two Korean women's pairs, the Chinese top seeds and an Indonesian pair were booed off the courts at Wembley Arena as they tried to throw two matches on Tuesday night, the sport's governing body annnounced their disqualification after a lengthy disciplinary meeting of its top officials.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) faced sharp criticism itself after its introduced a new "round robin" or group stage format for the Olympics and then appeared paralysed by indecision when a referee disqualified participants in one of the matches only to then revoke the decision.
Amid disgust and dismay from paying spectators, London 2012 Lord Coe organiser described the lack of effort by the players as "depressing" and "unacceptable".
After finding its sport at the top of the Olympic headlines for all the wrong reasons, the BWF issued a terse statement this morning announcing that the four South Koreans, two Chinese and two Indonesians had been ordered out of Olympics for infringing two rules: "Not using one's best efforts to win a match and conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport."
The controversy had begun to unfold late on Tuesday evening when the Chinese top seeds in the women's doubles, Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, and South Koreans Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na began their match with both pairs having already qualified for today's quarter final.
Lori Halford, 35, who had paid £40 along with her husband for tickets to the evening session, told The Independent: "It was immediately clear that something wasn't right. The first shot went into the net, then the next shot went into the net. The next return went under the net. There was no speed or strength to their play.
"There was a complete contrast to the others playing in different games who were giving it everything they could. At first we thought the players had seriously choked but then it started to go out on Twitter and we realised what was really going on. It was just really distasteful."
The attempt to throw the two matches in the women's doubles had it roots in a surprise result earlier in the day when the Chinese second seeds, Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei, were beaten by a Danish pair. The result meant that Yang and Xiaoli had to lose to avoid meeting their compatriots before a potential showdown in the final.
A similar desire to avoid the hot favourites seemed to have cross-infected the second match, between South Korean third seeds Ha Jung-Eun and Kim Min-Jung and Indonesian pair Meiliana Juahari and Greysia Polii. Amid jeers and shouts of "get off" from the crowd, referee Thorsten Berg at one point produced a "black card" meaning disqualification. The sanction, which according to official London 2012 guidance is "very rare", was then withdrawn after representations from coaches.
Sung Han-Kook, head coach of the South Korean team, which had an appeal against disqualification rejected, appeared to admit that his players had tried to throw their matches. He said: "The Chinese started this. They did it first. It's a complicated thing with the draws. They didn't want to meet each other in the semi-final. So we did the same."
The Chinese, who have bridled at speculation about the performance of swimmer Ye Shiwen, took a robust stance on their players, who had complained they were trying to conserve strength for the knockout tournament. China has been previously accused of using team tactics to avoid clashes between its top players. Xinhua, the state news agency, reported a separate investigation by Chinese officials and described the behaviour of the two women as "seriously violating the Olympic spirit".
The BWF meanwhile faced claims that it had been warned the introduction of the round robin format - an innovation for London 2012 - would lead to attempts at match fixing. Writing in The Independent, Gail Emms, an Olympic silver medallist, said the sporting body had cast aside warnings on Tuesday about the two matches.Reuse content