Throwing Matches at the Olympics

So what do you all think about this? Relevance to FRC?

I felt that many people who discussed it while I was listening to BBC radio had a great point about how the organizers of the event are at fault due to the formatting of the games, which gives teams incentive to purposely lose matches to gain an advantage and ultimately earn a gold medal (kinda like how the GDC had their ranking system in 2010?). They felt the players were victims of several systems in play, including, for example, China’s strong control of their athletes and desire to pursue gold medals. Others, on the other hand, said that this is against the spirit of competition and the Olympics (sound familiar?). They also said it would be unfiar to the spectators/sponsors/patrons to throw a match.

Thought it was a pretty interesting thing to think about, even when related to FRC. Things like 2010 6v0 matches came to mind. While not exactly the same as the Olympics scenario since 6v0 aren’t really thrown matches, and you don’t throw matches in FRC to play weaker teams in the next round, I felt that you could still draw some connections.

What are your thoughts? (in general or related to FRC)

It is a similar story, manipulating the standings to give you better position.

The big difference is that the players we warned not to do this and that there would be retributions for their actions.

Having two teams both trying to loose must have been quite something to see.

In FRC, situations like 6v0 are a concrete strategy to gain an advantage in the standings, seed higher, and ultimately play weaker teams in eliminations. It is the same as the Badminton situation in my eyes. The difference is that it is considered “creative strategy” in FRC and considered “illegal” in the Olympics.

IMO the Olympic games should be bracketed to encourage every team to win to gain an advantage. If losing makes it ultimately easier to get a gold then there is a design flaw in the bracketing structure, but I don’t think teams should be penalized for it because it is a sound strategy, if un-sportsman-like.

I think the main difference is that the players knowingly broke an official rule. I think if the rule had not been there it would be a different story and considered just simply good strategy. However the rule was there and they broke it by not giving it their all to win.

I see the 6v0 strategy as been very different. When it was done in FIRST, it was with the intention of scoring the most points for your team, thus increasing your standings. In the Olympics, it was with the intention of scoring the least number of points for your team in order to have an easier schedule. In FIRST, it was a legal strategy for playing the game. In the Olympics, it is not a legal strategy.

That said, both are unfortunate for the spectators. In both cases, you aren’t showing a great match highlighting the competition between two teams. In the case of the Olympics, they only have the option of punishing those who performed these acts, and rightfully so. In the case of FIRST, the GDC is able to rework the rules through weekly updates in order to push play back towards what was intended.

In FRC, situations like 6v0 are a concrete strategy to gain an advantage in the standings, seed higher, and ultimately play weaker teams in eliminations. It is the same as the Badminton situation in my eyes.

An important detail: In competitive badminton, throwing matches is explicitly against the rules. ( - section 4.5)

The “6v0” describes a variety of scenarios in 2010 that rarely included any collaboration between the alliances. After week 1, it never resulted in seeding higher than your opponents, but it would allow you to nearly match their seeding points instead of giving them the points to leapfrog you. I’d be happy to discuss the nuances of 2010 seeding strategy if anyone wants, but I think that’s a bit off topic for this thread.

I understand there are differences between the two situations, and that in the badminton situation throwing a match was explicitly against the rules: I said it was considered “illegal”.

In both cases it was beneficial for teams to intentionally lose a match, in this way the two situations are the same. I do not like that situation in any competition.

Let’s see … what would the cheers be coming from the paying fans:

hit 'em high
hit 'em low
come on teams
let’s throw throw throw

  • the matches -

It’s on the coaches.


Regardless of what the technicalities are in the rules or rankings, I don’t think that there should be a situation, in FRC or the Olympics, where losing actually gives you a better chance of winning in the end. To me, that defeats the purpose of sport and competition (not because winning is essential, but simply because of the idea of losing on purpose), especially in leagues like FRC or the Olympics, where the winners should win fair and square.

Take the NBA playoffs for instance, the way it works is that the top 8 teams from each conference move onto the playoffs; the 1st place team plays the 8th place team in the first round, the 2nd plays the 7th, and so on. At least from the point of view of statistics, the better your record, the higher your chance of winning. It is a simple system in which winning is always advantageous, and “throwing a game” always works against you in the end.

I think that ranking systems in games like Breakaway are too complicated, so complicated in fact that finding loopholes in them are easy. I think that simple is the way to go in terms of rankings.

It appears the main reason for the strategy was to avoid playing Chinese teams, both to avoid playing each other and reducing the chances of a Chinese gold, or just because they are so good. I suspect the strategy came down from someone higher than the players, like a coach or director. I mostly blame whoever made the decisions to employ these strategies (players, coaches, or others), with some placed on the organizers for the tournament format. Offseason competitions is where I see the parallel to FRC, where the rule is often in place that you cannot pick inside the top 8, and I think this is a point against using that rule at those competitions.

How does “throwing the game” compare to FTC strategies involving “scoring for your opponent” to increase your ranking points? Although the GDC effectively made it illegal last year, it was a big part of my team’s strategy in Hot Shot. A key difference from the Olympic mess is that you still need to win the match in order to get the Qualifying Points. Still, scoring for the opponent really confused some parents and some opposing teams who thought it was unsportsmanlike. I thought it added a lot of strategy to the game and made it more interesting.

I’ll admit, the first time I saw that story, I thought “well that’s just like sandbagging in FRC!” Not a good thing.

Oooo, I want a black card!

This is somewhat different than a 6v0 match. In 6v0 you are looking to gain qualifying points and overall increase your ranking. Playing to lose to get an “easier” opponent specifically goes against their rules.

In soccer there have been several wacky rule sets that allowed shenanigans like this to go on. In one Caribbean match years ago, the tournament rules somehow specified that if a particular team couldn’t win, they’d be better off losing by more than 2 goals. Their opponent stood to gain if they won by fewer than 2 goals. For the last minutes of the match, both teams ended up trying to score in their own nets! FIFA (the international soccer body) has taken steps to curb such abuses - for instance, better balancing of groups for round-robin play and having the last matches in the group played at the same time so one result isn’t known before the other game starts.

Back to FRC, I think this year’s ranking scheme made it advantageous for your team to win, as compared to the 6v0 scenario. (OK, discount the coopertition bridge, because that skews things.) Maybe FRC also wanted to try to eliminate potential abuses of the system.

After reading the article, and also having competed on Curie in 2010 and witnessing the 6v0 infamous Match 100 (iirc?), I think the difference is that certainly almost nobody knew that the strategy existed, let alone would work. The Olympians, however, are fully aware that intentionally throwing the match would result in their playing of a weaker team. As well, stated earlier is compliance with Section 4.5 of their rules explicitly prevents such action.

But the big difference is that in the sport world. You are expected to win and the point of the games are to win.

In FRC that year, it didn’t matter about the win, it mattered about the points more then W-L-T.

In the Olympics its more about G-S-B, not W-L-T. While not the same as FRC points, the end effect is pretty similar.

Writing in the Toronto Star, Cathal Kelly makes an interesting argument: that the moral imperatives present in amateur sport (like the Olympics) are different from those in professional sport.

It’s basically realpolitik in sports.

Does Kelly’s thesis hold true for FRC, or are the backers of FRC teams genuinely interested in the short game, even at the expense of the long one?

If sponsors are only interested in blue banners and trophies, then they don’t get it.

As a point of reference: At no point in 1114’s outstanding Chairman’s winning video do they show blue banners or competition-based trophies. They chose to highlight their Woodie Flowers winners, their Dean’s List winners, their scholarship recipients, the relationships wrought and opportunities afforded through being a Simbot, big or little.

That’s true, but there seems to be somewhat of a correlation between teams who rock the blue banners/trophies and sponsors.

However, there is the question of which came first…

  • Sunny G.

IMO, this is a failure of the rules commitee. Any time you have to add a rule: “Don’t do this because it is not in the spirit of the game.”, you have failed at establishing a set of rules that prioritizes your goals. It is extremely difficult to establish a set of rules that do have these sort of statements in them. The Olympics is chalked full of them*. Many people fail at attempting difficult things though, but to put the blame on someone else for you failure is not gracious or professional.

This particular set of rules is a difficult one though. If your goal was to win a medal, and you knew that loosing a particular match would increase the odds of you winning a medal, then it would be very difficult to give it everything you have. Just knowing, in the back of your mind that loosing that match increases the odds of you winning a medal, would likely cause you to come up short at that impossible save, or that painful dive… As all amazing athletes give 110% when doing their best (math may not their be strong suite), is giving 105% or 100% or 99% any different than say 65%?

So, if giving 80% will get you kicked out of the tournament, what about 99%? Who is to judge whether or not you are playing up to your potential?

In distance cycling or running, would you ban the fastest person for holding back and drafting to make a final kick at the end for the win? That is considered strategy in those sports. Often the winning runner will let someone else lead 9km of a 10K, just to pass them in the last 1km. Thanks buddy for the draft!

Should swimmers give 110% during their qualifying heats only to exhaust themselves for other medal races? Again, we applaud the “smart play” of a swimmer conserving energy during a qualifier in order to improve their odds at a win in the medal race. Did they cheat the audience out of winning that heat by another 2 meters or 0.75 seconds?

My wreslting coach often would concede a #4 seed for us to get a #6 seed at tournaments (at wrestling tournaments, the coaches often seed the wrestlers before the event similar to NCAA basetball brackets). He did this because he believed in us that we were the #2 wrestler in that class. He would come away from the seed meetings and tell us: “I could have fought for you to get a #4 seed because you don’t have as many wins as the #2 or #3 guys. If you were #4 you would have lost in the semis former state champion at the #1. Instead, I got you a #6, but you are going to make it to the finals. It isn’t the easy road, but I know you can do it.”

I personally feel the rules commitee owes these atheletes an apology for having conflicting constraints.

While I do agree that you should always try your “best”, I have a great deal of empathy for those involved in this situation as your best is a combination of “your” and “best”.

*Technically anti-doping rules would fall in this category. The reason I am OK with these are they are pretty clearly delineated what is allowed, and what isn’t, and the Olympics tests for these substances. How do you test for a 99% effort?

**Personally, I probably would have tried my best in the match, and thus not made it on the podium, which would have made me upset if I truly believed I could have earned a silver or bronze had things gone differently. I would hold no ill will towards a team trying to advance, but would write a scathing commitee to the rules commitee in hopes of a future change. If change followed the next year, I would be proud of my actions. If no change occurred, I would question the values of the commitee.