Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Losing on Purpose

You are the Swedish coach. You are guaranteed a place in the quarterfinals. Four years ago, your predecessor lost to Belarus in that game and was promptly fired.

If you lose the last group game against Slovakia, you are guaranteed to play Switzerland - a team that in this tournament managed only a tie against Italy and Germany. If you win the final game, you play either the $98 million superstars of Canada or the pre-tourney favored Czechs. A no brainer, then. Rest the boys and take the loss.

Except that common sensical musing on the propriety of throwing the game triggers a minor uproar:
International hockey's governing board closely monitored the Sweden-Slovakia Olympic men's game Tuesday after Swedish coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson suggested his team might be better off losing.
Put aside the ridiculousness of any such "monitoring" (what would be the sanction?) - commentators have repeatedly informed us not to worry about the Canadian performance thus far, that the tournament really only starts in the knockout stages. So what the hell is wrong with looking at who you match-up well against and trying to jockey your placing accordingly??

In my mind, the Swedish coach would have been remiss NOT to play for a loss. Which they secured. Hilariously, it was deemed a "proper effort" by the Finn sent to monitor:
"It is very important that you play hard because people do not understand if you lose on purpose," Kummola said after the first period, with Slovakia leading 1-0.
Sorry, but "people" understand your final placing, nothing more. The key game is the quarterfinal, since a loss there relegates you to no better than 5th and a victory assures that you will at least have a shot at bronze.

No one remembers (or otherwise cares about) Sweden's 5-2 victory over Canada in 2002. The real joke here is the format of the Olympic playdowns and too many meaningless games. If the tournament structure makes it advantageous to lose, why should we condemn those who only call attention to that logic and look to exploit it?

UPDATE - post Quarterfinal - Today's take: "Bengt-Ake Gustafsson was being refreshingly frank - and accurate." Exactly.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And cue the IOC : "The domination of the North American teams in women's hockey has led to speculation the International Olympic Committee may discuss getting rid of the sport. It's what happened to baseball and softball in the Summer Olympics and those sports were far more competitive."

So basically you can't be a loser... and you should not excel at the sport either... what exactly is the IOC looking for in athletes these days?

6:08 AM  
Blogger Devin said...

And they won the GOLD!!!

1:10 PM  

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