A Chinese badminton star booted from the Olympics for purposely trying to lose has quit the sport, but not before defiantly defending her actions and calling her disqualification from the games "unforgivable."
Many Chinese are now rallying around the disgraced Olympians.
"This is my last competition. Goodbye Badminton World Federation, goodbye my beloved badminton," Yu Yang wrote on her microblog Wednesday after being disqualified from the games.
Eight badminton players were kicked out of the Olympics Wednesday for deliberately trying to lose their matches to gain an advantage in the next round of competition, prompting many to condemn the players for cheating and unethical behavior.
Yu, however, was unapologetic and said her actions were not unethical.
"We were simply injured, simply chose to abandon the match within the rules. Simply to play better in the second phase of competition, the knockout rounds," wrote Yu. "Four years of preparation and hard work with injury, and they say it's gone and our right to compete is gone. You mercilessly ruined our dream. It's unforgivable."
Yu's announcement stunned fans.
Yu, who won the women's doubles gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, watched her reputation as a world champion disintegrate earlier that day as the Badminton World Federation kicked her, her partner Wang Xiaoli, and players from South Korea and Indonesia out of the competition for "not using one's best efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport."
A crowd of thousands had booed the players' intentional underperformance the night before, prompting referees to issue warnings to the teams. The South Korean and Indonesian players appealed the disqualification unsuccessfully, while Chinese sporting authorities chose to accept the verdict.
The Chinese Olympic delegation issued a statement asserting that it "fully respects" the decision, and Chinese badminton coach Li Yongbo expressed his regret.
"Chinese players failed to demonstrate their fighting spirit of the national team," the coach said.
Despite Yu's defiant announcement, the Chinese government-run news agency Xinhua reported that the players and coaches had apologized.
The scandal has sparked enormous discussion within China, ranking second on search engine Baidu's list of hot topics. On micro-blogging site Sina Weibo there were more than 15.4 million searches and 1.62 million new discussions on the subject within 24 hours.
While critics of Yu, Wang, and their coaches remain vocal, many in China are rallying in support of the players. According to a poll on Weibo, over 40 percent of the nearly 500,000 voters objected to the disqualification or sympathized with the athletes for being forced to lose. Users blamed the ruling on everything from jealousy to a poorly designed rule that incentivized losing.
"We, who judge these athletes from such moral high ground, should consider it from their perspective. What are they supposed to do? If you win and are already qualified, would you fight another stronger team to the death just to meet your own teammates in the next round? Any rule that merits the losers should be changed," said Chinese TV host Bai Yansong.
Some users, declaring the players to be "pawns sacrificed in a game of interests," in the words of one micro-blogger, are pointing fingers at the governing organizations.
Chinese Badminton Star Defends Trying to Lose
"Match-fixing is a fact, and indeed contrary to the spirit of competitive sports," wrote user Ars_Q Yong Fan. "What is shameful is that the athletes must pay the price. It's enraging that the Chinese delegation made Yu and Wang scapegoats. The responsibility lies with the Badminton World Federation and the Chinese delegation. Yu and the athletes did not have a choice, and were the ones who were harmed."
In the minds of some, though, the incident was a manifestation of a much larger national fixation on success, regardless of the costs.
"We, the entire nation, like to exploit loopholes," wrote micro-blogger Qiao Jiujun. "Everyone wants to benefit from the loopholes and taking the back-door approach. In the end, we harm others, or harm ourselves. Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli are not just one case. I feel this is one reflection of the inadequacies of China's entire society, and also shows China's 'quick success, instant results' outlook on gold medals."