Whilst I have previously outlined on this blog why I feel that when it comes to the Ye Shiwen situation the athlete and the whole Chinese nation cannot be surprised that she is under so much scrutiny (and just to reiterate, unlike all the other swimmers whose performance has increased spectacularly in 12 months Ye’s astonishing improvement only came in one leg, the last 100m, of her individual medley and at the point in the race when she should have been the most tired) they can certainly feel aggrieved at the way their players have been treated in the Badminton. Ultimately they were there to win, not be ‘the Olympic ideal’ made flesh and if forfeiting a match was the best way to do that and avoiding dumping their fellow Chinese players out of the tournament then I’m not sure what the problem is. The draw shouldn’t have been arranged to make losing a desirable option. It isn’t the players fault and I can understand their anger at being made scapegoats for others people’s mistakes.
It must be doubly irritating that a British track rider has admitted to crashing his bike on purpose to gain an opportunity to restart, which is a similar manipulation of the rules.
And triply irritating that there has been no chorus of criticism from the ‘Western’ press, who were so quick (with one or two honourable exceptions) to call out the Chinese Badminton players for their unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Philip Hindes, who is to be congratulated for his candour, openly admitted to deliberately going down just after the race had originally started:
“We were saying if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart. I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned, really.”
Pretty unambiguous I’m sure you’ll agree. But British Cycling, in an act of pretty gratuitous dishonesty, have suggested that Hindes’ comments were “lost in translation” as English isn’t his first language. Nice try guys. Not one of the most plausible official denials I’ve ever heard. The English is pretty good and he is making clear several times what he did and why he did it.
He doesn’t appear to have broken any rules, either. But British Cycling is clearly more concerned with protecting their reputation and are happy to lie in order to do so.
Ultimately people need to make a moral decision themselves about whether such brazen gamesmanship is appropriate or not. Personally I think we need to accept that in the era of professional sports moral judgments aren’t going to enter many athletes minds. They are there to do their job, and we all know how cynically and instrumentally we view our own jobs. It really isn’t a vocation anymore (if it ever was). It’s a means to earn a living and professional success is measured in numbers of victories.
We can’t have double standards however. Right now the media should be queuing up to denounce Hindes’ conduct (and British Cycling’s appalling lying) in exactly the same way the Chinese Badminton players were condemned. It should be a seriously big story, considering the number of column inches similar the Badminton generated. That they aren’t just demonstrates how crudely nationalistic the debates about cheating in sports are, everywhere.
The treatment of Alexandre Vinokourov by the BBC was one example the other day. Arguably Claire Balding’s badly judged immediate reaction to Ye Shiwen’s success was another (although I disagree with the way that she handled it on live TV, not the substance of what she was alleging, although I can assure you that my concerns about Ye’s swim have nothing to do with nationalism or fear of the Yellow Peril).
The collective shrug of the shoulders regarding the behaviour of Phillip Hindes is yet another. The hypocrisy of it all is very troubling.