Like many people around the world, I was surprised (make that appalled) to hear the news about Olympic badminton players, who had already qualified for the elimination round, tossing games in order to get easier opponents in the first round. But as I read more, my surprise turned to frustration — frustration at the failure of Badminton World Federation officials. They failed their sport by not following two of the basic rules of business: Don’t make a rule you won’t enforce, and enforce the rules you do make.
If this had been a first-time occurrence, I would be appalled at the audacity of the players for perpetrating such a stunt on other teams, spectators, the Olympics, and the sport itself. But that’s not exactly the case. Among many other news outlets, The Connecticut Post reported on comments by Indonesia’s coach that indicate the practice has occurred repeatedly in the past: “Erick Thorir, head of the Indonesian squad commented to the AP: ‘China has been doing this so many times and they never get sanctioned. On the first game yesterday when China did it, the BWF didn’t do anything. If the BWF does something on the first game and they say you are disqualified, it is a warning for everyone.’”
Players haven’t been sanctioned for throwing matches in the past, so the expectation is they won’t be sanctioned this time. End result: a stain on the sport and the reputations of the individuals involved.
The badminton federation’s problem is a perfect example of what many businesses grapple with today: how to set standards and enforce them consistently. For instance, if you establish 9 a.m. as the start of the workday, expect people to arrive by 9. If they arrive at 9:15 a.m. and you don’t say anything, not only will they continue to arrive late, others will notice your lack of action and follow suit.
It’s equally important to establish consequences and then follow through when the situation demands it. Be willing to dock the pay of workers who arrive late. Be willing to send someone home to change if they arrive not dressed to code.
As a Badminton World Federation official, the expectation must be that every match is played to win. When the rule is broken, apply the sanctions immediately and repeatedly if necessary. By setting expectations, establishing consequences, and following through, they could have avoided the mess their sport is in now.