Who knew? The words “badminton” and “scandal” are not ordinarily associated with one another.
But they are now. Eight female players are expected to be thrown out of the Olympic games for throwing matches in a crude attempt to rig the match-ups so they could get a favorable draw later in the tournament. At least the 1919 Chicago White Sox were not quite so overt when corruption infiltrated baseball. Shoeless Joe Jackson, after all, batted near .400 in that tainted World Series. That was about money and mobsters. This is all about better placement in a tourney.
And maybe it wouldn’t even have been all that scandalous if the players had at least attempted a little subtlety. These ladies were so obvious about it that the spectators were booing and demanding refunds. They obviously and purposely hit into the net. At times they gave no effort whatsoever and stood idly by as shuttlecock after shuttlecock landed gently on the court, unanswered and ignored. The umpires were motioning to the players to hit the damn thing.
Deception has long been a part of the sport of badminton. Professionals who play this, as opposed to you or I, are always trying to deceive the opponent in regard to how hard and in what direction they will hit the shuttle. But this current form of deception, aimed at the larger audience of the sport, has hardly been sneaky at all- just clumsy.
I do not fear far-ranging consequences for the sport, however. It’s not like their television revenues are suddenly going to plummet. Or that Walmart’s sales of badminton equipment will suddenly suffer.
The only disconcerting part of all this is next time I play a game of Badminton, my own incompetence may be misconstrued for fixing the match. No- that was my clumsiness that explains why the shuttlecock just hit me in the head or why I accidently smashed my partner with the racket.
So in advance of our next match, let me loudly proclaim: I may suck at this sport but please don’t question my badminton integrity.
Finally- an area of agreement between our dysfunctional political parties. Everybody hates the U.S. Olympic team’s outfits that will be worn for the big opening ceremonies in London. This is because they are made in China and, apparently, because they have berets that look kind of French.
There hasn’t been this much outrage since it was discovered by the Athenians back at the first Games in 700 B.C., that their togas and sandals had actually been made by the Spartans. There was also great angst back then in regard to the new headwear made from olive branches. For everybody, of course, except Caesar, a Roman, who liked the look and adopted it for his own years later.
As for solutions to the made-in-China problem, Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, suggests throwing all the uniforms in a large pile and burning them. While this would be deeply satisfying for many, it seems a waste of expensive material. Can we just give the uniforms to the actual Chinese? Or- perhaps we can quickly make the Chinese team’s uniforms and call it even?
As for the jaunty little hats. Those wacky folks at Fox and Friends, the morning news show famous for its measured response to the great issues facing American society, put on French accents and had a good ol’ time making fun of the look earlier this week, implying the berets were kind of effeminate and something only wusses would wear. Who would don such a thing, for crying out loud? MSNBC answered last night on the Ed Show. Oh, yeah- these guys:
Speaking of things that look French, an even bigger problem in my view is the great French Fry Scandal that has now engulfed the games. As an official sponsor, McDonalds has strong-armed the Olympic committee into giving them the sole right to sell fries. No other vendor can violate this exclusive arrangement. Except for those that sell them along with fish, in which case, they are no longer fries, they are now “chips.”
This is nothing new. A HUGE controversy erupted at the first games regarding the barley, wheat and grape concessions. It turned into a nasty little row between Epemetheus (husband of Pandora of the famous box) and Achilles (of ‘heel’ fame). Epemetheus ended up with the wheat and barley, Achilles with the grapes, but a third vendor, McDonaldoclese ended up making a killing winning the exclusive wild boar and mutton concessions.
And, of course. the biggest outrage of all is the stuff attendees of the London Olympics are not allowed to bring into any of the stadiums or other venues. No bottled water. No large, golf-style umbrellas or oversize hats. No Frisbees, hunting horns, drums, vuvuzelas or whistles.
There were no such restrictions at the first games. Pig bladder water containers were welcome. Daggers were allowed. Even gigantic war horns.
Clearly, times have changed- and not for the better. I am sure the organizers of the first games would have rued the day they allowed their athletic competition to be taken over by exclusive sponsors, corporations and heavy-handed governments.
It’s un-American, I tell you, and I am angered by all of it. Why? Because, as everyone knows, it is mandatory now to be outraged by something at all times and the Olympics last a long time- like a month or so- so this covers my outrage quota through damn near the end of August. Ah, August- a month I’ve always hated.
I am really quite late to the curling frenzy that is sweeping the world right now. But seeking to catch up as quickly as possible, I watched my first match just minutes ago. It was a very tight contest between Sweden and Great Britain that went to 11 ends. Sweden was the eventual victor, delaying Keith Olbermann by 16 minutes for his 8pm start time on MSNBC.
I am sure Keith didn’t mind one bit because it was an absolute nail-biter. The arena was thick with tension as the Swedish skip pushed off confidently from the hack. The stone seemed to glide hesitantly at first but the sweeping work of the Swedish lead and second was simply superb. You could see by the looks on the faces of the British team that they would, regrettably, be on the receiving end of a rousing broom stacking later that night. As everyone knows, though the beer is free, it is only gratis because you lost the contest.
But I digress. The yellow stone was guided smartly toward the house and just when it seemed it would stop short, slipped ever so gingerly right to the edge of the button. Then just like that, Sweden had completed its stirring come-from-behind effort after having tied up the contest in the 10th end using a clever tick and emerged with their dramatic victory over the Brits to head to the semi-finals of the Olympic bonspiel.
I was so moved by my first extended curling-viewing experience that I immediately turned to the World Wide Web, hungry for more information. I found out curling originated in Scotland in the early 1600’s, the best stones are made of Ailsite granite and they go for $1,500.
I also found out that curling humor is, well, puckish. Here are two curling jokes, courtesy of Sportsjokecafe.com:
Manager phones the home of an employee and gets one of the children on the phone.
“Could I speak to your dad, please”
“My mom and dad are away at a curling bonspiel”
“Well when your dad gets home ask him to phone his boss at work, I need to know how long he’ll be away with his broken leg”
But, wait, there’s more (with apologies to my religious friends):
Is curling a biblical sport? Yes, replied Jesus: “Let he who is without spin cast the first stone.”
There are some things I already knew about curling. For some odd reason I have visited nearly every major city in Canada and have many Canadian friends. So what I know is certain about curling, is that going to a bonspiel (a tournament) is actually an excuse to get completely shit-faced. This totally explains why anyone would think the two jokes above come anywhere close to resembling humor, as it is traditionally defined.
The only other observation I would make after my intimate brush (get it, get it?) with curling is that, every now and again, it is fun to visit another planet.
I like Vancouver. It’s a lovely place. I love Canadians. They are the nicest people ever. But I’m not sure they’re feeling like the Olympics are the best thing that’s happened to the city about now.
Having been in Atlanta for the 1996 summer games, I can attest to what a nightmare these things can become. I remember watching Jim Lampley at about 1:15 am, reporting that a bomb had just gone off at the Olympic Plaza next to the CNN Center and doing my duty as a journalist and head of CNNRadio at the time, getting in my car and driving literally 90 mph down the interstate and getting passed by cop cars rushing to the scene. I recall the eerie scene in downtown Atlanta that night as police helicopters hovered over the city with their floodlights while homeless people slept in the streets and bomb squads searched for more explosives.
Nothing that bad has happened in Vancouver but it certainly hasn’t been smooth going either. The nightmares began with the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili on the eve of the opening ceremonies during a practice run on a course the Canadians had bragged was the fastest ever built. An investigation found it was the luger’s fault and had nothing to do with the track. That led the Georgian President to make the point that he was pretty sure an athlete’s “mistake” is not supposed to result in death.
Less tragic but embarrassing events have since become commonplace in Vancouver. Here’s a list:
1) During the opening ceremonies, one of the four pillars supporting the Olympic torch failed to rise from the floor leaving a Canadian athlete with nothing to light.
2) Then there was the imprisonment of the torch as organizers put it behind an ugly wire fence in downtown Vancouver. They’ve since taken some steps to improve the view and make it a little more accessible to the public.
3) Bus drivers taking people to the venues have quit, complaining of long hours and lousy working conditions. Others have gotten lost and many of the buses have just broken down.
4) The speedskating finals were delayed Sunday and Monday due to malfunctioning Zamboni’s that left uneven ice surfaces. They finally had to truck one in from Calgary. Apparently, more delays at the skating venue today as well.
5) Cypress Mountain turned into a quagmire as warm weather first forced organizers to truck in snow and then when it rained, had to cancel 28,000 tickets when the spectator area became unsafe from the flooding slush.
There have been some nice moments in these Olympics. The Chinese couple that returned from retirement to win the Olympic gold that had eluded them in their long skating careers. Seth Wescott winning a dramatic victory in Snowboard Cross. Hannah Kearney winning the Mogul gold. Apolo Ohno with his silver in short-track speed skating as two Koreans took each other out at the last second. Lindsey Vonn winning the Alpine Skiing event on her bum leg after a two-week lay-off. As I write this, no one has actually seen her winning the gold but I read about it. Maybe I’ll watch it, though it’s kind of a bummer to know in advance what the result is going to be.
I must say, America does not seem exactly mesmerized. American Idol cleaned up last night. As for our Canadian friends- they’re learning that old lesson about being careful what you wish for.