Political science doesn’t have many “laws” the way physics does. But here’s one of them:
Law: People will strategize according to the institutional features put in front of them.
Here’s a corollary that I think should follow from that:
Corollary: If one creates stupid institutional rules, one loses the right to object to people taking advantage of them.
Apparently the Olympic organizing group of badminton could learn from this law and its corollary. Yesterday, you see, eight players intentionally played to lose. Full story here.
The gist of it is this: Early in the day, the #2 team in the world lost their last group game, sending them to the bottom of the teams qualified for the quarterfinals. Later on, teams that were already qualified for the quarterfinals played to lose, concerned that a win would propel them to a high seed that force them to play the #2 team sooner in the elimination bracket. Oops.
Badminton officials were shocked–shocked!–that the players would resort to such a cunningly intelligent strategy. Furthermore, the officials complained that the players had violated a rule that protects against athletes “not using one’s best efforts to win a match”–as though one could reasonably discern what qualifies as “best effort” versus “a little bit less than best effort, but still enough effort to convince everyone that we actually care even though we don’t.”
Here are a couple of solutions for the Olympic badminton committee. First, you could schedule all of the final games group play simultaneously, to make it harder for teams to know to throw matches from the start. (Soccer pulls a similar trick in the Euro and World Cup, albeit for slightly different purposes.) Or you could have a single elimination tournament from the start.
Just don’t be surprised when players try to win…by losing.
Update: The players have been disqualified. Next time, I suggest feigning an injury.
The USA Today story also reports that the Japanese women’s soccer team intentionally sought to draw yesterday, as to avoid playing the United States in the quarterfinals.