Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω
Dear International Olympic Committee, International Association of Athletics Federations and all other governing bodies of Olympic sport;
I was hoping that you could clarify some things for me.
Taoufik Makhloufi from Algeria was ejected from the 2012 Summer Games for “failure to compete honestly,” after not trying to win a race that he was not allowed to simply withdraw from so he could conserve energy for another race. (He was later allowed to continue competing, but that sort of goes along with the point I’m making here.)
Eight badminton players were thrown out of the games for attempting to lose matches to give themselves a more favourable draw for future matches in which losing would cause elimination.
While I completely agree that the integrity of sport must be maintained in order for sport itself to remain both competitive for the participants and entertaining and engaging for the spectators, I find it a bit hypocritical to be expelling these athletes for the reasons stated.
When asked how one manages to recover from one race so quickly as to go back in the pool 13 minutes later and win a gold medal, U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin didn’t try to hide the facts, saying that in the first race she only had to qualify, so a “top eight time” was good enough.
That doesn’t exactly sound like she was trying to win that race. It actually sounds like what Makhloufi did — he saved his energy for a race that mattered.
Wait…that sounds like what those badminton players were doing, too — they strategically planned their Olympic Games to give them the best shot at medalling.
So I ask you this: will you please explain to me why some people are allowed to not try in order to better their chances overall, but when others do it, it’s disgracing the games — or sport in general?
I expect that you can’t really answer that, actually, because whatever your reasoning is, it wouldn’t be good. How about we consider it rhetorical, and I’ll just offer a couple of suggestions instead.
What if, in the future, you do away with this whole round-robin to establish opponents in elimination matches?
Set the bracket — double-elimination-style (I’ll draw you one up, it’s not complicated) — and play it out. You won’t see people trying to lose, I guarantee it.
Also, stop having qualifying races where more than one person moves on to the next round. How many lanes are there in a pool? Run that many qualifiers, and each winner gets into the heat where the top three get medals.
Better yet, just run three qualifiers. Then race the winners to see which medals they get.
You can do this for athletics, too!
Run three heats for each distance. The winner of each heat gets to run another race to see what kind of shiny necklace they get.
I think you’ll find it levels the playing field — at least in terms of who is trying to win every time they compete.
If you make it so the easiest way to win is to lose sometimes, that’s what some people will try to do.