Well Played Sir, Well Played

Sasaki Rolls Dice and Gets it Right

Controversy and the Olympics of go hand in hand – throwing illegal blocks in swimming, “broken” clocks, crooked judging and marathon impostors to more recent plaques of boycotts for political reasons and drug abuse have along with many others been part and parcel of the games since they rebooted in 1894.

We can now add another as eight badminton players have been expelled for trying to lose their matches in an attempt to rig the draw determining who they would face in the quarter-finals. As the linked National Post article by Cam Cole says, “But they really ought to have been expelled for an appalling lack of subtlety.”

On the same day badminton players were being tossed for not being good at cheating Japanese women’s soccer coach Norio Sasaki found out he would, not surprisingly, face discipline for instructing his players not to win their match against South Africa.  His reason he did not want his team to have to travel from Cardiff, Wales to Glascow, Scotland for their quarter-final on Friday.

If this was indeed Sasaki’s plan he succeeded.  His team will not face the 400 mile journey north and wait comfortably in their current hotel while Brazil makes the three hour bus ride from London to face them.

The three hour trip not withstanding, Brazil will returning to the stadium of their opening two games so it seems it of little consequence to them but for the Japanese the chance to not have to uproot for a third time in a short tournament was well worth playing for the tie – no matter what kind of relationship is built.

After opening in Coventry for their first two games, moving the team and staff to Cardiff, the chance to sit still and wait while staying in the same hotel rooms and training on the same facilities was well worth the risk of playing keep away from the South Africans for ninety minutes.

The small price to pay for failure since they had advanced to the quarter-finals even with a loss was probably a much shorter trip to London. As an added bonus on this side of the draw, the Japanese cannot face the top ranked Americans until the final (this however was not determined by Japan’s result but Canada’s tie with Sweden).

Sasaki is not the first coach to face this choice and won’t be the last – teams rest players, play for the tie when it’s all they need all the time (think two game aggregate goal situations in the Champions League) and no one questions it or even bats an eye.  The difference in this case the coach admitted what everyone else had already figured out.

The main difference in the two situations between the soccer coach and the badminton players Japan was playing for a tie the badminton players were trying everything they could for the loss. One a stroke of management genius well accepted within the traditions of the game, the other an overt attempt to circumvent the rules and spirit of play and while predictable given the design of the competition not acceptable within in the norms of the sport.

Now about the second half of Canada v Sweden…