Eight badminton players at the London Olympics were kicked out of competition Wednesday for trying to lose — a display that drew outrage from fans and organizers who said the women had violated the most sacred stage in sports.
It appeared to be the first mass disqualification in Olympic history.
After an unexpected loss by a powerful Chinese doubles team, the eight women appeared to play poorly on purpose to secure a more favorable position in the next phase of the event.
The feeble play was obvious to fans who attended the matches Tuesday night at Wembley Arena — they chanted, “Off! Off! Off!” — and to incredulous television broadcasters and viewers watching around the world.
“They’re serving fault and fault! They are just hitting the ball into the net!” the BBC’s David Mercer said in disbelief. “They are both trying to lose, and that is unforgivable. This is the Olympic Games.”
The eight players included four from South Korea, two from China and two from Indonesia. They were disqualified from competition but allowed to stay at the games — a step lighter than expulsion, the penalty for positive drug tests.
None of the players was made available for interviews. But after the match one of them, Yu Yang of China, said they were only trying to save energy for the knockout rounds, starting Wednesday.
Besides dumping serves into the net, both teams made simple errors. The longest rally was only four strokes.
The scandal was the talk of the sixth day of the Olympics, overshadowing a long-awaited first gold medal for the home country, secured at last by a pair of British rowers at Windsor.
Though the most serious to date, it’s hardly been the only black eye.
On Monday, a South Korean fencer wept openly while judges took an hour to consider a disputed point, and on Tuesday, doping suspicions engulfed a teenage Chinese gold-medal swimmer.
For the most part, the blunders have been much smaller — unsightly empty seats on television, lost keys to Wembley Stadium, the South Korean flag flown instead of the North Korean at a soccer match.
Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, said the badminton scandal was “depressing.”
“Who wants to sit through something like that?” he said.