In the semifinal of the Badminton Asia Championship in China last week, Olympic Champion Lin Dan was injured during the morning training session and forfeited his match against compatriot Chen Jin. Chen went on to win the title, which made a considerable contribution to his ranking points.
The victory took Chen closer to his goal of breaking into the top-four in the world rankings before 3 May, a pre-requisite for him to qualify for the Olympics. According to the qualification rules, any country can field three singles players in the Olympics only if all three are in the top four in the world rankings after the qualification period ends on 31 April 2012.
Under normal circumstances, the incident could have been ignored as a stroke of good luck for the 2010 World Champion, who is still struggling to cement his berth in the forthcoming London Olympics.
But when such incidents involve two Chinese players the badminton fraternity cannot help but look at these developments with suspicion since the sport’s powerhouse has been known to “fix” the result of such matches for a bigger goal.
The biggest of such controversies had broken out when China’s head coach Li Yongbo once publicly admitted that he asked Zhou Mi (former world number one) to throw her 2004 Athens Olympics semifinal against compatriot Zhang Ning since he felt that the latter was more likely to get the better of Dutchwoman Mia Audina who had already booked her final berth.
He had defended his decision saying Zhang had already won the first game in the semifinal and hence “as a patriot” he decided Zhou to take it easy and not try and win the match.
In the last couple of years, Lin Dan has forfeited his matches twice against Chen Long to allegedly keep him fresh for a crucial match against Malaysian world number one Lee Chong Wei. He also forfeited the final of the Singapore Open Super Series last year against Chen, which ultimately helped the latter to gain valuable ranking points.
In the 2011 Malaysia Open, there were quite a few walkovers in the all-Chinese encounters forcing the governing body, Badminton World Federation, to issue a warning to the coaching staff.
Then the bigger goal for the Chinese contingent was to earn the full quota of qualifiers for the World Championship. In the same tournament, Xin Liu forfeited her women’s singles quarterfinal against Jiang Yangjiao citing a toe injury. That move not only helped Jiang, but also helped their men’s doubles pair as they were already warmed up when their match, scheduled immediately afterwards, was called while their Korean opponents were in for a surprise.
For the last few years, former world and Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia has been petitioning the BWF to make stringent rules to curb these Chinese tactics, but the world body has expressed helplessness time and again since it cannot force any player to take the court and risk further injuries.
The other strategy the Chinese contingent employees in the run up to major events like the Olympics and World championship is to enter many new players into major tournaments to shield their top players from their challengers.
India’s Saina Nehwal got the taste of that game plan during the Badminton Asia Championship last week when she was shown the door by Asian junior champion Xiao Jia Chen in the second round.
The youngster had obviously come prepared with a game plan for Saina, while the Indian ace was completely clueless about the strengths and weaknesses of her opponent.
Saina has time and again said that it is difficult to keep up with the Chinese only because of the sheer number of players they have and their different game plans. “It is easy for them to prepare for me. But the other way round is very difficult.”
In the women’s category, the Chinese ensured that they have all the top-four spots secured when world number four Li Xuerui won the Asian title beating world champion and compatriot Wang Yihan. The badminton powerhouse will now have the choice to field any three players for London Olympics on the basis of their current form.
The Chinese are already geared up for a clean sweep of Olympic medals, it would be interesting to see who manages to break their stranglehold in London.