One of China’s top badminton stars Yu Yang said on Thursday she would quit the sport, a day after she was, along with seven other players, disqualified by the world governing body for throwing games at the London Olympics to secure an easier draw.
Even as China’s badminton federation said it would order a probe and backed the decision to disqualify four women’s doubles teams – these included two teams from South Korea and one from Indonesia, besides the number one-ranked Chinese pair – sports fans here expressed anger at the decision and widely backed Yu, who accused the world governing body of “shattering my dream mercilessly”.
Yu announced in a message posted on her account on a Chinese Twitter equivalent, Tencent weibo, that she had played her last game. “Bye bye, my beloved badminton,” she wrote.
The popular 26-year-old star, who rose to prominence after winning gold in the women’s doubles competition at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, rejected the criticism directed at her and teammate Wang Xiaoli
which suggested that they had thrown their game to avoid meeting their compatriots in the next round.
Her teammate, she said, was carrying an injury, which explained the world championship-winning pair’s uninspiring performance.
“We were injured, and chose to take advantage of the rules,” she said, in comments that will raise further questions as to why the Badminton World Federation (BWF) chose to introduce a new round-robin format.
“We did this to be better in the knockout round,” she said. “This is the first time that round-robin elimination was adopted in the Olympics.”
She asked if administrators understood the reality that players faced injuries. “We prepared for four years and you disqualified us,” she said. “You shattered our dream mercilessly. It is that simple. It is not that complicated, and it is unforgivable.”
Chinese sports fans have rallied behind Yu following her statement. Most comments on Weibo expressed sympathy with her and suggested the disqualification was harsh, although the players initially faced criticism from sports officials and fans at home following their clearly below-par performance which angered audiences both in London and in China.
Yu's comments have also hinted at discord within the Chinese Olympic contingent. Only a day earlier, Chinese newspapers quoted a statement from Yu saying she had apologised "to all the badminton fans and
friends over yesterday's game, because we did not comply with the Olympic spirit, and did not deliver a match with our true level to the audience, the fans and the friends."
China’s badminton head coach Li Yongbo on Wednesday also apologised for the performance. “As head coach, I owe the supporters of Chinese badminton and the Chinese TV audiences an apology,” he was quoted as saying by the State-run Xinhua news agency. “Chinese players failed to demonstrate the fine tradition and fighting spirit of the national team,” he said. “It is me who is to blame.”
The Chinese Olympic Delegation said it “fully respected” the decision by the sport’s governing body. “The behaviour of Yu Yang and Wang Xiao violated the principles of the Olympic Movement and went against the
spirit of fair play,” the delegation said.
The four teams were charged with violating rules that penalized players for “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.”
Few Chinese “netizens” were, however, convinced by the charges, with tens of thousands of comments on Sina Weibo, the most popular Twitter equivalent, attacking the BWF for coming up with a faulty format and
"unfairly" penalising players who simply followed the rules. "It is called strategy, the game is about winning!" wrote one blogger.
The Chinese Olympic delegation also came in for criticism, accused of letting the players down and, some said, forcing them to apologise. Yu, however, made her displeasure clear. On her Weibo account, which
is followed by more than one million people, she even appeared to have changed her job description: where she had once written "professional badminton player" now reads, rather cryptically, “freelancer”.