By Yoo Jee-ho
LONDON, Aug. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has sent home four badminton players and their coach over a match-throwing scandal that also involved Chinese and Indonesian shuttlers at the London Olympics, but no further action has occurred, such as an apology from the athletes or punishment of their head coach.
That raises questions about how seriously the country takes the case and whether it is willing to get to the bottom of the scandal that has tainted the image of Team Korea and rocked the London Games.
On Thursday, the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) said it would send home members of two doubles teams -- Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, and Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung -- along with coach Kim Moon-soo, for their role in apparent match-throwing attempts earlier this week. The players were disqualified from the Olympics by the Badminton World Federation (BWF), along with a doubles team each from China and Indonesia.
Absent from the KOC's list of disciplined figures, however, was the team's head coach.
When announcing the punishments, the KOC explained it chose not to sanction head coach Sung Han-kook for the time being because the Olympic tournament is still underway. Lee Kee-heung, the chief of the South Korean athletic delegation, said officials will hold further discussions on possible punishments for Sung.
"After the end of the Olympics, we will investigate the exact extent of Sung's involvement," Lee said. "But there are still matches left to play in London."
Reports say Yu Yang, one of the Chinese players, and her head coach Li Yongbo appeared on Chinese state television to make public apologies, following an order from their delegation. Indonesia's Sports and Youth Ministry also released a statement saying it "respected" the BWF's decision.
After the BWF disqualified the players, Indonesia appealed but then withdrew the appeal and China did not contest the ruling. South Korea complained, but the appeal was rejected.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Thursday it wants the team coaches and even trainers to be disciplined, along with the athletes, if they encouraged or ordered players to lose on purpose.
Still, the KOC doesn't want to begin looking into Sung's involvement until after the Olympics.
After the Tuesday debacle, Sung criticized China for starting to throw away points and for leaving South Koreans no choice but to follow a similar scheme.
"If they play right, the Chinese team, this wouldn't happen," Sung was quoted as saying on the London Games' official online news service site. His comments came after the world No. 1 team, Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China, lost to the Jung-Kim tandem.
"It's not like the Olympics spirit to play like this," Sung added. "How could the No. 1 pair in the world play like this?"
Wang and Yu allegedly lost on purpose after watching another Chinese team, Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei, lose their match earlier Tuesday. That defeat relegated Tian and Zhao to second place in Group D. That meant if Wang and Yu beat the Koreans and finished first in Group A, the two Chinese teams would be on the same side of the bracket and would be on course to meet in the semifinals, instead of the final.
Sung also said Tuesday that Ha and Kim, who took the court after the Jung-Kim team, "did the same" as the Chinese because they too wanted a favorable draw in the quarters.
"Nobody likes playing against strong players," Sung said then.
On Thursday, hours after the KOC handed out the penalties, Sung was more contrite.
"I really don't have much to say," he said by phone. "I don't think I can avoid responsibility in this."
The coach, however, still said China was to blame for the match-throwing scandal.
"The Wang-Yu team saw the earlier match (by Tian and Zhao) and knew how the draw would be set up," Sung said. "They took a look at the possible bracket and decided to lose to our team on purpose."
During the match between Jung-Kim and Wang-Yu, Sung complained to officials about the Chinese team's actions. But Sung's own players also engaged in actions that ended their Olympic tournament.
Memories of major match-fixing scandals in popular professional sports such as baseball, football and volleyball are still fresh in the minds of many South Korean sports fans. Several players were indicted on charges of taking bribes from gambling brokers for deliberately making mistakes in games. They received a wide range of sanctions, including lifetime bans, from their leagues.
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