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As I explained to one inquisitive student last week, “team” is a plural collective noun (“the team are playing”) in British English, while it is considered to be singular in American English.

The British have it right.

One of the most common mistakes that a leader makes is to assume that their “team” is a uniform body with uniform motivations and one that uniformly identifies with the organisation’s mission.

Which brings us to another day, another ridiculous mishap.

But this most recent screw-up pisses me off the most.

In short, four doubles teams were disqualified and banned from all future Games for exhibiting self-interest in winning a piece of shiny gold hardware instead of taking one for the “team,” which in this case under the judges’ eyes, consists of the entire Olympic community.

The eight athletes blatantly tried to lose matches in order to gain more favourable subsequent matchups. Sounds pretty standard, strategic, and even common-sensical, right? I mean, it’s quite comparable to swimmers conserving energy in the qualifying heats, often times receiving lower seeds.

According to the judges, the athletes tarnished the “integrity of the game.”

Right. As if any Olympians give a bronze-medal’s-arse about promoting the integrity of the game, whatever that even means. I didn’t know intangible nouns and the unconscious could possess integrity–except for, arguably, spirits and God.

Sports are governed by rules. A fluffy and subjective word like “integrity” has no place in judges’ rulings.

Olympians are competing to win. And the International Olympic Committee (IOC) nonprofit wants to promote all this happy yay-sports healthy-competition tralala-ing.

If the IOC looks reality in the face and entirely infuses “morals” into objective rules, those two interests are not mutually exclusive and will rarely clash.

For those who uphold the judges’ decision, let’s look at the next best alternative for the disqualified teams. Instead of blatantly losing, they could have feigned effort and attempted to slip up at the match point. (A few lackluster bouts likely would not have resulted in disqualification.)

Or, instilling enough fear of disqualification with this newly-set precedent might make athletes play at 100%. But they will never play at 110%, knowing the consequences of the short-term win. And when you have the best athletes in the world pitted against one another, 110% is what really wins matches and medals.

So at what percentage should athletes have to compete at to avoid disqualification, and how can that be objectively measured? Gray area? Hell yeah. And to be honest, playing at the minimum effort threshold as arbitrarily dictated by the IOC doesn’t truly uphold integrity any better.

Set objective rules, and let competitors do what they do best: squeeze every possible advantage down to the last drop.

The International Olympic Committee disqualified the eight athletes in an attempt not to better the Games, but to save their own faces from their flawed rules.

To end on a more positive note:

A couple user comments:

  • Good form. Good execution. Oh, bit of a splash there; he’ll get penalized for that one.
  • Sloppy entry from what should have been an explosive manouvre. (Source)
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One Comment

  1. Posted August 4, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I’m totally with you about the banning – “tanking,” as it’s called in American sports, is really a punishment to oneself. If you’re willing to take the setback in hopes of capitalizing on it later, it’s your own stakes you’re playing with. Being banned indefinitely for that is a little bit dramatic.

    I’m all over your ass about the British having it “right,” though. Purely based in syntax, when we’re talking about a collective whole, an assembled amalgamation of parts, that whole is then referred to singularly. A pie, even when cut into pieces, so long as they’re still on the plate together, is a pie. *A* pie. A singular pie.

    Now, I know you were playing on a different context (that the British usage better parlays the fact that each athlete is possessed of his/her own autonomy, regardless of postured altruism and patriotic kiss-assery), but I’ll be damned if I’ll give up my semantical scruples to a bunch of Redcoats promoting capitalism! We could go into all kinds of philosophical debates about teamwork and even pataphysical shit like spirituality, but a team *is* one thing that the British can’t take away from my lexicon!

    Love ya, Mr. Mark.

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