Medals achieved on a tilted playing field are a victory for self-delusion
A lot of Thai football fans were upset at what they perceived as unfair refereeing during Tuesday’s Asian Games match between Thailand and South Korea, which the latter won 2-0. Viewers claimed the referee awarded the hosts a penalty for a Thai player’s foul outside the penalty area, yet denied Thailand one when a Korean player handled the ball inside the same zone.
A late penalty kick awarded to the South Koreans in their earlier match against Japan also raised eyebrows. The host side won that match 1-0.
Football Association of Thailand president Worawi Makudi told news media the referee had made “many mistakes” during the Thailand-South Korea match and vowed to take the matter to the Asian Football Confederation.
Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang congratulated the hosts after Tuesday’s match. He said he hoped they would go on to clinch the gold – but in “in a beautiful way”, not via penalty kicks they didn’t deserve.
This has not been the only controversy concerning refereeing and organisation at the 2014 Asian Games. Complaints and allegations of refereeing and conditions favouring South Korean athletes have abounded, drawing denials from the organisers.
The boxing ring has been a focus for controversy.
Thailand, India, the Philippines and Mongolia all lodged complaints after their boxers lost to host fighters on dubious decisions. A chorus of boos has greeted judges’ decisions at the end of several fights. The spate of contentious rulings has spawned uneasiness among teams at the Incheon Games.
In badminton, several coaches and players suspected the air-conditioning at the venue had been manipulated to help South Korean players win.
China’s badminton coach Li Yongbo blamed “man-made reasons” for his team’s defeat to South Korea in the men’s team final. “The South Koreans deliberately controlled the air current in the stadium to gain an advantage. When we played into the breeze, it was very strong, but when the wind was behind them, they shut down the air-conditioning,” Li said. Japanese badminton coach Keita Masuda voiced a similar complaint after his team’s loss to South Korea in the quarterfinals. “The air current in this stadium is very strange, always supporting the hosts. Every time we change sides, the breeze seems to change sides as well,” he said.
Meanwhile Thai former world champion Ratchanok Intanon blamed “strangely strong winds” at the venue for her loss to a South Korean.
The fact is that host countries of regional sporting events such as the Asiad and Southeast Asian Games are often accused of using unfair means in a bid to win as many medals, preferably gold, as possible. With national pride and honour on the line, the stakes are high. And with high stakes comes the great temptation to bend or even break the rules to add shine to your country’s reputation.
Sadly, some countries do opt for honour earned by deception and cheating rather than through victories fairly earned on a level playing field. Placing the principle of fair play to one side, they use home advantage to tilt the odds in their favour. The result, however, is more often than not counterproductive, since the accusations of foul play tarnish the reputation of the country in question. The medals achieved by such deception represent nothing but a victory for self-delusion and are certainly nothing to be proud of.