Eight women badminton players, including the reigning world champions from China, are facing a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday after being charged with trying to throw their matches at the London Olympics a day earlier to secure a favourable draw.
The Badminton World Federation said in a statement it had charged the doubles players from China, South Korea and Indonesia under its players' code of conduct with “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”.
A spokeswoman for the federation, Gayle Alleyne, declined comment on possible sanctions ahead of the disciplinary hearings.
The International Olympic Committee said it would allow badminton's ruling body to deal with the controversy.
“We have full confidence in the federation to take any necessary steps,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “They have the experience to deal with such issues.”
The doubles pairs were all due to compete in quarterfinals on Wednesday afternoon. Spectators at London's Wembley Arena booed when they realized players were apparently deliberately trying to lose.
China's official Xinhua News Agency cited an unnamed spokesman for the Chinese delegation as saying the delegation was taking the incident seriously and had ordered its own investigation.
“The Chinese delegation will handle this case according to the results of the investigation into this match,” the spokesman said.
Teams blamed the introduction of a round-robin stage rather than a straight knockout tournament as the main cause of the problem.
In the round-robin format, losing one game can lead to an easier matchup in the next round.
On Tuesday, Chinese players were accused of starting the problem by deliberately losing a game. This led to other teams behaving in a similar way to try to force an easier quarterfinal. At one stage both teams appeared to be trying to lose a game.
World doubles champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China and their South Korean opponents Jung Kyun-eun and Kim Ha-na were booed loudly by the crowd Tuesday after dumping serves into the net and making simple errors like hitting the shuttlecock wide.
The longest rally in their first game was only four strokes. The umpire warned them and tournament referee Torsten Berg spoke to all four players but it had little effect. At one stage Berg showed a black card which usually means disqualification, but the game continued.
Eventually, the Chinese women lost 21-14, 21-11 and both pairs were jeered off the court.
The teams had already qualified for the last 16, but the result ensured that the top-seeded Wang and Yu will avoid playing their No. 2-seeded Chinese teammates until the final.
The problem was repeated in the next women's doubles between South Korea's Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung and Indonesia's Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii. Both teams were also warned for deliberately losing points in a match the Koreans won 18-21, 21-14, 21-12. The capacity crowd vented their displeasure on them, too.
“If they play right, the Chinese team, this wouldn't happen,” said South Korea head coach Sung Han-kook. “So we did the same because we don't want to play Korea. Nobody likes playing against strong players.”
Berg and the Badminton World Federation said they were going to investigate.
Yu said they were only trying to save energy for the knockout rounds starting on Wednesday.
“We would try hard in every match if they were elimination games,” she said. “Because they are group stage that's why we are conserving energy.
“If we're not playing the best it's because it doesn't matter - if we're the first or the second (in the group) we're already through. The most important thing is the elimination match tomorrow.”
The South Koreans filed a protest with the referees.
“It's not like the Olympics spirit to play like this,” Sung Han-kook said. “How could the No. 1 pair in the world play like this? They start playing mistakes.”
Australia coach Lasse Bundgaard blamed the group format for the controversy.
“It's not good when you create a tournament where the players are put in this situation,” he said. “If you can win a medal by losing, but not by winning, that's not a good situation to be put in.
“I totally understand why they are doing it. Now the Indonesians are doing the same but it's not a good situation to be put in.”
Jauhari said she couldn't understand why the South Korean coaches protested their amount of errors.
Indonesia's Polii added: “The referee said to us you are not playing very seriously and since he said that we felt intimidated and disturbed.”
Beijing badminton silver medallist Gail Emms said the games had been embarrassing to watch and that the players could be thrown out of the tournament when the disciplinary meeting is held later on Wednesday before the rest of the day's games are held.
“It was absolutely shocking,” she said. “The crowds were booing and chanting 'Off, Off, Off.'“ She said the players concerned were deliberately hitting serves into the net, serving them out or serving faults.
“This is London 2012,” Emms said. “For the future of our sport and the Olympic Games something needs to be done.”
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge had been at the badminton on Tuesday but had left shortly before the drama unfolded. - Sapa-AP