Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Losing to Win and the Ethics of Competition

Four teams have been disqualified from the women's badminton competition in London for throwing matches. The teams had looked at the seeding and realized that by winning the matches, they would face a tougher road to the finals than offered by the pairs they would face if they lost the matches. So, in order to win the war, they forfeited the battle. On the one hand, the social contract in sport requires both sides to try to win. It was the violation of this that led to the disqualification. But unlike cases of point shaving or a boxer taking a dive in order to get a big payoff from gamblers, in this case the lack of effort was in the service of winning, just in the larger context. Marathon runners do not sprint the entire race. There will be long stretches where they pull back to save energy for the final sprint. Bike racers let someone else lead so they can use the aerodynamic advantage of being pulled along by the leader's effort to lessen their own thereby giving them an advantage at the end. Is the throwing of badminton matches in order to get a more favorable match-up the same sort of thing? Is it a difference of degree or of kind? If they did it with the goal of winning, did they indeed violate the spirit of sport?