Old School Andy: Losing on purpose strikes at the core of athletics

COMMENTARY — This afternoon it was announced that several women’s badminton teams in the Olympics were disqualified for trying to lose their matches. Apparently, the teams were trying to set themselves up for better match-ups when the competition went from pool play to bracket play.

My gut reaction to the news came in two waves: First, it’s women’s badminton and no one really cares; Second, losing on purpose, an act despicable to me, has been considered by many but actually performed by few.

Yes, it is women’s badminton, which barely registers a blip on any sports fan’s radar. But with teams from China, South Korea and Indonesia purposely trying to throw matches to get a better draw, it’s heartening to see the Badminton World Federation actually take a stand.

“We applaud the federation for having taken swift and decisive action,” Olympics spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press. “Such behavior is incompatible with the Olympic values.”

Ah, the Olympic values. Isn’t that what sports is really all about?

It’s not just badminton. In the past year, I have heard fans in football, basketball and baseball talk of the merits of dropping a game or two on purpose to set their teams up for better playoff positions.

We had a three-way tie for second place in football. Fourth place was no good (as Dixie found out in its first-round loss to Juan Diego). But many argued third place created better match-ups than second place. In this case, the principals met for a coin toss to determine seeding. Many fans wished for a bad result with the coin.

The Utah Jazz barely made the playoffs and were eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in a sweep. Many contended that the Jazz players needed that experience to grow and get better. Still, a large group of fans hoped the Jazz would lose their last couple of regular-season games, which would have made them miss the playoffs but get a lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

And in prep baseball earlier this year, no one wanted to face Snow Canyon in the first round of the playoffs. The Warriors, who were forced to forfeit several games due to an ineligible player, ended up as the fourth seed for Region 9 and promptly went out and won the state championship.

In each of these instances, and dozens of others every year in the sports world, losing on purpose could have created some more favorable circumstances for a certain team.

Many fans, with a wink or a hushed voice, uttered the words, “Maybe we should throw the game.” Quite a few times I’ve had a winning coach after a game tell me that his team would have been better off with a loss.

But to my knowledge, no team I have covered personally has ever done it.

Losing should be painful, not planned | Image by St. George News

And here’s why: Losing goes against everything that every coach teaches his or her players from the first moment of the first practice.

We teach our kids to try their best, and if they try hard enough, they will succeed. We teach them that supreme effort is the key to success. You give all you have and you will be rewarded. You put forth maximum effort and there will be triumph.

Those promises don’t always come true, but they are at the heart of athletics. I love sports because these same principles apply in life as well. Give it all you’ve got. No employee ever got fired for trying too hard.

In fact, the only time I can ever imagine where losing on purpose might be acceptable is when playing a child. And even that is controversial (how are they going to learn?).

But even letting your 10-year-old beat you in hoops serves a more noble purpose. If that child has put forth maximum effort, maybe they deserve to win once-in-a-while.

Although  – I have learned one very valuable lesson over the years: 10-year-olds grow up and soon enough you may be wishing they’d let you win.

Or in other words, beat them while you can.


Andy Griffin is a sports commentator and the opinions stated are his own and not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc., 2012, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Murat August 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Who are you to define the ‘core’ of athletics? What these people did is fine. They were using their heads, which is rare among athletes. “I love sports because these same principles apply in life as well. Give it all you’ve got. No employee ever got fired for trying too hard.” Oh, please. Give me a break. Lots of employees have been fired for trying too hard, such as when their place of employment was robbed and they attempted to intervene. Also, instilling the “give it all you’ve got” attitude in kids is generally not good for them. Since most children will grow up to be mediocre peasants, teaching them this ideal can be bad for their self esteem, since their ‘full’ effort will almost inevitably result in a pathetic outcome.

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