London (CNN) — Eight female badminton players were disqualified from the Olympics on Wednesday for trying to lose matches the day before, the Badminton World Federation announced after a disciplinary hearing.
The players from China, South Korea and Indonesia were accused of playing to lose in order to face easier opponents in future matches, drawing boos from spectators and warnings from match officials Tuesday night.
All four pairs of players were charged with not doing their best to win a match and abusing or demeaning the sport.
The Indonesian and South Korean pairs appealed the decision, the federation said, and a decision on their appeals is expected later Wednesday.
The charges result from two lackluster contests in London that angered the watching crowds as the doubles pairs appeared to be serving into the net on purpose.
The eight players concerned had all already qualified for the quarterfinals of the tournament before the final matches of the group stage Tuesday night.
British sports fans going into the Olympic Park on Wednesday called the scandal “shocking” after seeing parts of the matches on television.
“It’s not in the spirit of the thing,” said Kevin Button of Ashford, in Kent, just outside London.
“And it’s so disappointing for the people who came to see it,” his wife, Tina, said. “It leaves a bit of a sour taste.”
The disqualifications mean the world’s No. 1 pair, Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China, are out of the competition.
In the first of the Tuesday matches under scrutiny, Wang and Yu played South Korea’s Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na in a game in which “neither side seemed to be exerting themselves,” the official Olympic news service said.
After a several serves by both pairs went into the net, the tournament referee, Torsten Berg, was called to the court, the news service reported, “where he warned all four players amid a chorus of boos from the crowd.”
The South Koreans eventually won the “repeatedly interrupted match,” securing first place in their group, according to the news service. But that puts them in the same side of the draw as Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei, a Chinese duo who are ranked No. 2 in the world.
The second match in question took place about an hour later, pitting South Korea’s Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung against the Indonesians Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii.
Play in that contest was “sluggish early on,” the Olympic news service reported, and Berg was called onto the court at least twice “with the crowd calling for the players to be sent off.”
Former badminton player Andy Goode, who represented Team GB at the 1992 Olympics and managed the team four years later, said the disqualification was the right call for the sake of the sport.
“It was a decision they had to make, and they had to make quickly,” he said. “I’ve never seen any sporting event, any major event, where two players or two pairs just stood on a court and haven’t tried.”
But Goode said the kind of tactical play seen Tuesday “does go on,” especially in countries where the team ethic is very important.
“These players, I feel for them a little bit, because this wasn’t their decision; their team has told them to lose these games,” he said.
The world champion Chinese pair, Wang and Yu, “were going for gold, and this was just part of their journey to get to that gold.”
They probably didn’t see anything wrong with what they did because they were focused on the next round and winning medals for their country, he said.
Goode said he hoped the furor would not have a negative impact on the sport longer term, given the swift response by its governing officials.
“They’ve come clean, they’ve disqualified them straight away, they’ve done the good thing, because sports like badminton rely on being in the Olympic Games,” he said.
“If the image of badminton is tarnished and they are taken out of the Games, the European badminton countries will suffer, because without the funding to get into the Olympics, there is hardly a circuit to be able to make enough money to play full time.”
The Chinese team distanced itself from any suggestion that its players were instructed to throw the match.
The Chinese Olympic delegation is investigating the Chinese players’ conduct, it said in a statement Wednesday.
“Upon learning the incident, the delegation leadership has ordered an investigation into what and why it happened,” the statement said.
“The Chinese Olympic Committee has always advocated athletes carrying forward the Olympic spirit during competitions. We promote the spirit of fair and equitable competitions, and oppose any violations of such sports spirit and ethics for any reason or in any form,” the delegation said.
The controversy has prompted wide debate on social media, with opinion divided on whether the players were exercising tactical nous within a poorly designed system or were guilty of failing the Olympic spirit and bringing the game into disrepute.