Badminton scandal: the game's flawed, not the players

Shuttlecocks at dawn.

When following the best tactics for winning gold gets you disqualified for match-throwing, something is wrong with the game.

Eight badminton players have been kicked out of the Olympics for manipulating the quarter-final draw - two from China, four from South Korea and another two from Indonesia. The players tried to deliberately lose points in round one in order to set up an advantageous round two. Score lower points in the first match, and you'll be pitched against weaker players in the second.

This meant that Tuesday's matches weren't all that that fun to watch, and the subsequent scandal attracted criticism from former British Badminton star Gail Emms (amongst others). She told BBC Five Live:

"You cannot do this in an Olympic Games, this is something that is not acceptable and it just makes not only our sport but the organisers and the poor crowd who had to watch, who pay good money to watch two matches....it was just disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful.

"I would disqualify them."

But the problem with condemning what these players did is that they weren't fixing matches for betting purposes - they were just trying to win overall. The structure of the game, in fact, dictated this move. Perhaps we should be examining all the players who didn't try to exploit the loophole. Are they serious about winning gold?

Bridget Jones said it best:

"I got in the lift to go home and found Daniel in there with Simon from marketing talking about the footballers being arrested for allegedly throwing matches. "Have you heard about this, Bridget?" said Daniel. "Oh yes," I lied, flailing for an opinion. "Actually, I think it's all rather petty. I know it's a thuggish way to behave, but as long as they didn't actually set light to anyone, I don't see what all the fuss is about."

A badminton player. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496