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Chinese badminton player disqualified from Olympics says she is quitting

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
August 2, 2012 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Yu's official team apology suggests she may play again in the future
  • But "Farewell my beloved badminton," she says on her Weibo account
  • Yu Yang changes her microblog profile information to "freelancer"
  • Yu; her doubles partner, Wang Xiaoli; and 6 others have been charged with playing to lose

Hong Kong (CNN) -- One of the Chinese badminton players disqualified from the Olympics for trying to lose a match has said she is quitting the sport, accusing the badminton governing body of ruining her dreams.

"This is my last match," Yu Yang wrote on her microblog account late Wednesday. "Farewell Badminton World Federation, farewell my beloved badminton."

Yu; her women's doubles partner, Wang Xiaoli; and six other players were kicked out of the competition Wednesday by the Badminton World Federation in one of the most controversial episodes of the London Games so far.

Read more: Badminton players disqualified

The athletes were accused of playing to lose in order to face easier opponents in future matches, drawing boos from spectators and warnings from match officials Tuesday night. The other doubles pairs booted out were from South Korea and Indonesia.

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All four duos were charged by the federation with not doing their best to win a match and abusing or demeaning the sport.

While the Indonesian and South Korean pairs both unsuccessfully appealed the decision, the Chinese sporting authorities accepted the ruling and the country's head badminton coach apologized for the players' behavior.

Trying to fail? Not just in Badminton

But Yu and Wang, ranked No. 1 in the world, were defiant in their posts on their accounts on Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter. They blamed injuries and the rules of the competition for the controversy.

"We were injured before the match," Yu wrote. "And we were using the rule to give up the match to be better prepared for the knockout round. Do you know how much pain we suffer when we athletes get injured and still have to compete?"

She said the federation's decision to disqualify them had "dashed our dreams."

At 26, Yu is relatively young to be leaving the sport. There are women's doubles players among the top 10 pairs in the world who are still competing beyond the age of 30.

She appeared to be sticking to her intentions Thursday, changing her profile information on her Weibo account from "badminton player" to "freelancer."

But her official team apology was less unequivocal.

"I apologize to all our fans because we failed to abide by the Olympic spirit and failed to present a game as it should have been ... I am ready to do my best in every game of my professional career in the future, to show all of my fans that I've changed," it read.

Reached by telephone, an official at the Chinese Table Tennis and Badminton Center, which is affiliated with the country's General Administration of Sports, was unable to provide any information about Yu's status. The official declined to give his name and title.

The disqualifications resulted from two lackluster contests in London that angered the watching crowds as the doubles pairs appeared to be serving into the net on purpose.

The eight players concerned had all already qualified for the quarterfinals of the tournament before the final matches of the group stage Tuesday night.

The Chinese Olympic delegation "fully respects the Badminton World Federation's decision to punish" its athletes, it said in a statement.

"The actions of Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli on the court have violated Olympic principles and the spirit of fair athletic competition. The Chinese Sports Delegation feels saddened," it said.

The delegation is investigating the Chinese players' conduct, it said, "and will make appropriate rulings based on the result."

The head coach of the Chinese badminton team, Li Yongbo, expressed contrition for what happened.

"As the head coach, I owe the fans and the Chinese an apology," he said, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua. "Chinese players failed to demonstrate their fighting spirit of the national team. It's me to blame."

The state-run television station CCTV aired footage of Wang and Yu apologizing. But their microblog accounts told a different story.

"I can't believe we fought so hard for four years and the result is this!" Wang wrote. "I tried hard at the match with a body full of injuries."

She said she and her partner paid the price for the federation's "imperfect game rules."

Xinhua published reports in Chinese based on the two athletes' angry Weibo comments.

In the first of the Tuesday matches that prompted the uproar, Wang and Yu played South Korea's Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na in a game in which "neither side seemed to be exerting themselves," the official Olympic news service said.

After several serves by both pairs went into the net, the tournament referee, Torsten Berg, was called to the court, the news service reported, "where he warned all four players amid a chorus of boos from the crowd."

The South Koreans eventually won the "repeatedly interrupted match," securing first place in their group, according to the news service. But that put them in the same side of the draw as Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei, a Chinese duo who are ranked No. 2 in the world.

The second controversial match took place about an hour later, pitting South Korea's Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung against the Indonesians Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii.

Play in that contest was "sluggish early on," the Olympic news service reported, and Berg was called onto the court at least twice "with the crowd calling for the players to be sent off."

Former badminton player Andy Goode, who represented Britain at the 1992 Olympics and managed the team four years later, said the disqualification was the right call for the sake of the sport.

"It was a decision they had to make, and they had to make quickly," he said. "I've never seen any sporting event, any major event, where two players or two pairs just stood on a court and haven't tried."

But Goode said the kind of tactical play seen Tuesday "does go on," especially in countries where the team ethic is very important.

"These players, I feel for them a little bit, because this wasn't their decision; their team has told them to lose these games," he said.

The world champion Chinese pair, Wang and Yu, "were going for gold, and this was just part of their journey to get to that gold."

They probably didn't see anything wrong with what they did because they were focused on the next round and winning medals for their country, he said.

Goode said he hoped the furor would not have a negative effect on the racket sport longer term, given the swift response by its governing officials.

British sports fans going into the Olympic Park on Wednesday said the athletes' behavior was "shocking."

"It's not in the spirit of the thing," said Kevin Button of Ashford, in southeastern England, who had watched parts of the matches on television.

"And it's so disappointing for the people who came to see it," said his wife, Tina. "It leaves a bit of a sour taste."

The debacle has prompted wide debate on social media, with opinion divided on whether the players were exercising tactical nous within a poorly designed system or were guilty of failing the Olympic spirit and bringing the game into disrepute.

Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London Olympic organizing committee, was clear where he stood on the controversy, describing the spectacle as "depressing" and "unacceptable."

"I mean, who wants to sit through something like that?" he asked.

The game of badminton dates back centuries but has been an Olympic sport only since 1992. Competition has been dominated by China, Indonesia, South Korea and Denmark, according to the federation.

China has won 11 of the 24 Olympic gold medals awarded in badminton since 1992, according to the International Olympics Committee's database.

Although not widely played in the United States, badminton -- viewed as one of the fastest racket sports -- is popular in many European and Asian nations.

OfficialBadminton.com says it is played by 200 million people worldwide and is the national sport of Indonesia and Singapore.

CNN's Richard Allen Greene, Florence Davey-Attlee and Laura Smith-Spark in London; Steven Jiang, Dayu Zhang and Jaime A. FlorCruz in Beijing; and Alexis Lai and Andrew Henstock in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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