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Bravo to the Chinese badminton players – they’re just trying to win medals | Simon Jenkins

1st August 2012

Criticising a nation’s athletes for wanting to win as many medals as possible is to forget what the Olympics is really about

The attacks on Chinese and Korean badminton players are grossly unfair. They were doing their best with added cunning. Day and after day we read relentless hyperbole about the vital importance to national pride of winning: not winning a heat or a round or an exhibition, but winning medals. So obsessed is the media with this single index that the BBC has stopped displaying the medals table because it is too humiliating. This is the pastiche chauvinism of a banana republic.

Along come the Chinese, who clearly know how to win. You plan. The badminton heats were apparently staged to give an incentive, in certain circumstances, to losing games in the qualifying stages. Faced with the risk of a tougher opponent later and thus losing a medal, the players did what their tacticians said. They lost a round. I cannot see how, in sporting terms, this is any different from sprint cyclists hovering for an age on a curve, waiting for the right moment to surge forward. Anyway, the athletes were not trying to lose, they were losing so as being more likely to win.

The result on the night may have been depressing for the spectators, but no one was forcing them to watch. They would be the first to howl if a British team so messed up the qualifying rounds as to lose a medal. The concept of the Olympics as being not about winning but “about taking part” ended long ago. Modern Olympics are parodies of Hitler’s nationalist games of 1936. They are a statist contest determined by who wins the most medals.

As for watching people lose, that can develop its own rules and excitement. As a boy I recall the most engrossing event at the village sports day was the slow bicycle race. The only rule was that you had to stay on your bike and could not go backwards. Three-legged races were similarly enjoyable, as was running backwards. It was only the swimmers who elevated not moving as fast as possible from A to B into an art, with backstroke, butterfly and such nonsense.

The truth of the matter is that the actions of these badminton players are in the spirit of the modern Olympics. It is not a spectator sport but a deeply serious competition for national pride. The players should be congratulated on their ingenuity.


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