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.