Thursday, August 02, 2012

"Losing to Win" Is Not Worth It

I love badminton. I play badminton when I was young. I even represented my school once, although I didn't get past the second round. Behind every serve, every retrieval, and every smash, what makes the whole event competitive and fun is that we are all playing to win. It makes our training worthwhile. It makes our win more valuable. It makes us proud to have given our all, regardless of whether we win or lose.

The Olympics is a premier sports event. Just being able to participate as an Olympian is already an honour in itself. If one can stand on the podium, it is joy unspeakable.
Umpire giving the Chinese and Korean pairs a warning
(Credit: National Post)

Not this week. For this week, we see players throwing away their matches for the sake of "fixing" their best chances. Badminton as a competitive game has been turned into a farce. An embarrassment. A shame. At the London 2012 Summer Olympics currently going on, news are still settling in on a shameful conspiracy of match fixing. In one of the most controversial and embarrassing display of 'losing to win' in badminton, eight players were disqualified for unsportsmanlike behaviour. This is a bizarre demonstration of what teams are willing to do in order to jostle for a better match up, athletes are letting their heads move faster than their hearts. After an unfancied Danish pair defeated a top seeded team from China, another team of Chinese players start to strategize on how best to plan their games in such a way to allow their country to have two Chinese teams in the final instead of a possible semi-final match-up.

After all, everyone is playing for a medal. Why kill yourself by playing so hard and to meet your toughest opponent instead in the semi-final? It is true, that in many situations, the hardest game is not the final, but the games leading up to the final. Any thinking person will definitely prefer to face their toughest opponent in a match that, win or lose, will still win a medal. What remains is this question: Is it sportsmanship to try to win big games by losing small matches?

A) I Understand

I understand what the Chinese players, the Indonesian, and the Korean women's teams are doing. They want to make sure that they have a good shot at the medals. They are prepared to pay the price of losing shamefully in the preliminaries. I understand too, that athletes often have to preserve their best energies for their most important matches. What is the point of draining oneself flat the day before, and fail to give your best at the game of your life? I understand that players themselves do not like to lose. Just making a decision to lose is already detrimental to one's principle of sportsmanship. I also understand that the organizers of the format of the competition need to take some responsibility as well. Sports officials need to make sure that future arrangements will take away any temptation for players to lose-to-win. I support a direct knock-out format.

B) Why I Support the Disqualification

Although the disqualification of the four top pairs of badminton players has meant only the weaker players remain, I think it is the principle of sportsmanship and the spirit of the Olympics that need to be held higher than the gold medal. I say this for three reasons. Firstly, losing to win mentality is a disgrace to the sport. Imagine after training so many years of your life to prepare for the Olympics, you walk into the badminton courts to play like amateur kids? If for some reason, you are paired with a tougher opposition, that does not mean one plays any less hard. One needs to play hard and to play honest, regardless. The spirit of sportsmanship must trump any selfish desire for medal glory. Secondly, losing to win dishonours not just the Spirit of the Games, it dishonours your honourable opponent. Even if one plays in order to lose, the opponent will feel that he/she has not been given the chance to excel or to do his/her best. Ever tried to play chess on your computers? What if you try to cheat by undoing your moves every time you are disadvantaged? You can keep undoing your moves until you finally win. However, what does that do to your chess skills? How can you then honestly claim that your win is fair and square? You may get away by cheating the computer. In real life, when you play your opponent, the important spirit of community and brotherhood is not only to do your best, but to force your opponents to excel as well. Good performances that motivates others to perform well is worthy of all of our support. Thirdly, losing to win takes away the honour of an Olympian. I liken this to a form of indirect cheating. By strategizing in such a way to get weaker opponents in your draw on the way to the final, it looks to me more like sly manipulation rather than honest competition.

C) Winning is NOT Everything

The key underlying cultural theme that is prevalent, infrequently questioned, and often assumed without critical thinking. It is the mentality that espouses, "Winning is Everything."

Not really. On the contrary, winning at all costs is costly. The spirit of sportsmanship is not just to give your best, but by your actions, embolden others to compete at their best. For me, what is a more appropriate maxim is this: "A winning mentality is everything." A winning mentality aims to compete fairly. Losing to win is shamefully unfair. Unfair to the spirit of the Olympics. Unfair to your worthy opponents. Unfair to audiences all over the world.

Take the example of Derek Redmond at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics. Midway through a 200m race, he developed a hamstring injury on his right leg. Falling to the ground, he realized that his dream for Olympic glory was over. That did not prevent him from the greater purpose: Completing the race. With his face grimacing in pain, he mustered up great determination, limped toward the finishing line. For Redmond, completing the race is more important than winning. (watch this inspiring video here).


True heroes do not just play to win. They finish the race. They do not lose to win. They win regardless of the final result. For winning or losing is secondary. Be the best person we are called to be is primary. Such a winning mentality wins something more precious than a gold medal. It brings honour to the sports. It gives great inspiration to all competitors. It brings glory to our Creator God who simply asks of this one thing: "Give your best. Let Me do the rest."


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