Losing to Win

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” is one of many quotes that are bandied about in sport. In fact motivational quotes about winning have become big business, either as posters, or in books complimented with great sporting photographs.

It was the sportswriter Grantland Rice whose words are often misquoted as “it matters not who won or lost but how you played the game.” Words one coach once told this writer ‘must have been written by someone who never won anything.’

Rice who died at the age of 73 in 1954, was in fact a relatively accomplished athlete at university during the turn of the last century, but established himself as one of the great American sports writers, when newspapers were the main source of information and writing an art form, rather than the reproduction of press releases and propaganda.

Reading his misquoted words it would be easy to assume that Rice was anti sportsmen being paid, in fact Rice actually defended the rights of American sportsmen such as tennis player Bill Tilden and American footballers to earn a wage. However he did question the warping influence of big money in sport. Rice may well have been ahead of his time.

There have been numerous events in sport over the years where athletes have done whatever it takes to win, putting the success of the team ahead of the spirit of the game.

One incident that helped make Mike Brearley the most hated England cricket captain since Douglas Jardine happened in November 1979. With the West Indies needing three to win off the last ball of a one-day international in Sydney, Brearley put all the England fielders, including wicket-keeper David Bairstow, on the boundary. England won within the rules but the crowd and the media vilified Brearley.

Less than two years later in 1981, with New Zealand needing seven to beat Australia in an One Day International this time in Melbourne, Trevor Chappell bowled the last ball of the match underarm, under orders from his brother and captain, Greg. This deprived Brian McKechnie the chance of tying the game with a six. Like Brearley, Greg Chappell was vehemently condemned, but his action was within the laws as they stood. In both instances, adjustments were quickly made to the laws of the game to ensure there was no repetition.

At the 1982 FIFA World Cup in the last pool match in Group 2, with Algeria having played Chile the day before, Germany and Austria knew what they had to do in their match in order to progress to the knock out stages. A win by one or two goals for West Germany would result in both them and Austria qualifying at the expense of Algeria. West Germany took the lead after 10 minutes, and there were few serious attempts to score by either side for the next 80 minutes. Both sides were accused of match-fixing, although FIFA ruled that neither team broke any rules. They did however change the way the tournament was run. FIFA changing the format to ensure that the last games in each pool were played on the same day and at the same time so a similar game would not ensue.

At the London Olympics in 2012 eight female badminton players from China, South Korea, and Indonesia were disqualified from the tournament and accused of deliberately losing a pair of doubles matches.

Here the tournament ran along the lines of 16 teams entering the women’s doubles tournament. Half qualified for the knockout stage. This meant that it was possible for teams to clinch a spot in the medal round with one preliminary game still to play. That’s exactly what one Chinese, two South Korean, and one Indonesian team did. Unfortunately for the tournament organizers, two matches on the final day of qualifying featured contests between those already-qualified teams.

China had hoped that two of their pairs would contest the Gold medal match, but after the pairing of Zhao Yunlei and Tian Qing lost to Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl, that result meant that the two Chinese teams would meet in the semifinals of the knockout round rather than the gold-medal game. China’s only hope of having both teams in the finals was for the country’s other team of Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang to lose, thus pushing themselves into the opposite side of the draw. Once their South Korean opponents saw what the Chinese were up to, they decided it was also in their best interest to lose, as that would give them better medal-round matchup as well. As the crowd booed, the Chinese and South Korean players repeatedly served the shuttle into or under the net, looking as competent as kids playing at a backyard barbie.

The Badminton World Federation changed the format for Rio where all teams finishing second in their groups went through another draw to determine who they faced in the knockout stage, whereas the group winners had fixed positions to begin the playoffs.

As covered last year in “The Game That Wasn’t” a surprise loss for the Republic of Korea at the Junior Asia Cup Hockey tournament meant that the game between hosts Malaysia and Japan would determine who met the Koreans. As Korea had played earlier Japan knew that if they drew they would avoid Korea in the quarter finals. A win in the quarter finals guaranteeing the team a spot at the Junior World Cup. They made no attempt to score until Malaysia did, and then equalised, twice. Malaysia were eliminated by Korea in the quarter finals. Japan progressed to the semi finals and the Junior World Cup.

Korea may have come out on top on that occasion, but at the just ended 2016 Kabaddi World Cup in India it was not such a happy ending. Korea upset the hosts and favourites India in the opening game of the tournament, and went on to win all of their pool matches. This meant that India would finish second in Pool A. Prior to the tournament everyone had predicted an Iran v India final, but with Iran top of Pool B it looked as if these two teams would meet in the semi final. That was until Iran surprisingly lost their last pool match against Poland. Not only did they lose, but they lost by enough points to make sure that if Thailand lost to Japan by less than seven points they would still finish second in the Pool, as the bonus point given to Thailand for losing by less than seven would see them move top. This was no upset, this was a calculated defeat. Iran met Korea in the semi final and came out on top 28-22 but lost to India in the final. Not surprisingly the Korean players had to be coaxed to shake the hands of their opponents. This was their way of protesting against what had transpired. Whether the tournament format will be changed in the future it is to early to say. Hopefully like the other examples changes will be made to ensure that such events are not repeated.

What all of these examples show is that winning is truly the aim of many top athletes and teams, and they are prepared to do almost anything in order to win, even lose.

One motivational quote on winning says “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” The key is for tournament organisers to learn that such events are happening more and more in top flight sport to give athletes and teams a better chance of achieving their ultimate goal, the final or a gold medal match. Winning is still everything, and sometimes you have to lose to ensure you win, but what harm you do to the sport or the event seems to matter little. Consideration for the paying public does not appear to come into the equation.

No greater example of this can be Somerset Captain Brian Rose’s declaration after one over at New Road, Worcester in 1979 in a Benson & Hedges Cup zonal match. Most of the spectators hadn’t even taken their seats by the time the game was over.

Somerset had travelled to Worcester knowing that under the rules of the competition they would qualify for the quarter-finals provided that they did not lose by a huge margin. Even if they won, Worcester and Glamorgan, who were expected to record an easy win over Minor Counties South, would only finish on the same number of points as Somerset. Worcestershire needed a conclusive victory to overtake Somerset by virtue of a superior strike-rate. By declaring their innings after one over, Somerset would lose to Worcester but that was inconsequential as it meant that Worcestershire could not overtake them on strike-rate.

Worcestershire refunded all the gate money and slammed Rose’s actions as “an absolute disgrace”. Despite having contacted the authorities before deciding to declare, and having been told there would be “repercussions,” Rose still went ahead with his plan. The Test and County Cricket Board called an emergency meeting of its disciplinary committee, and eight days after the match, that committee voted to expel Somerset from the competition by 17 votes to one. Incredibly, Somerset supported the motion, while Derbyshire, for reasons known only to themselves, were the sole voice of opposition to it.

That doyen of cricket writing and commentary, John Arlott, did not blame Rose, as he claimed that he had simply exploited the rules. Many felt that those at fault were the law makers and tournament rules themselves.

Money has become a key to that burning desire for success. It may not be the prize money that is won from playing some games, but the additional opportunities as a result of that victory.

People will say that in the past there was more honour in sport, and that the game was played in the right spirit, but these examples show that at least in the past 35 years there will always be people who look to use the rules to their advantage. It is just that nowadays it may be more so than in the past, or it could be that there is more coverage of such events.

Maybe after all is said and done Grantland Rice was right when he penned his poem “Alumnus Football.” It is in fact not about winning and losing, that sport is about so much more, and part of that is respect and integrity. Respect for those who follow the game, who pay and watch, as well as your team mates and opponents, but most of all the integrity of the sport itself must be protected at all times.

“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.”
Grantland Rice.

Losing to Win
Tagged on:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *