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"Cheat, Cheat" Goes the Shuttlecock

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It is a shock that there were accusations of point shaving going on in the Olympic badminton competition. Actually the shock is not so much the alleged cheating, but that badminton is an Olympic sport.

This is a game created by bored British army officers and their wives during the colonial occupation of India. Cheer-O, chaps. You can play badminton in a hoop skirt.

When the Brits gave up India they brought home curried chicken, khaki pants, and the game of badminton, which was then played on the sprawling lawns of homes that have names like Swanlingham and Dwiddlemoor.

Badminton is played with a racquet that looks like a fly swatter and the object of play is a feathered thing called a shuttlecock that weighs about five grams. Think about swatting black flies in springtime in the Adirondacks and that's pretty much the activity of badminton. Except black flies are harder to hit than a shuttlecock.

The original Olympics were based on combat skills like running, wrestling, throwing a spear, and hurling the discus. Now the Olympics also include more modern feats of athleticism like gymnastics, bicycling and pole vaulting. Some of these people are incredible. A 15-year-old girl on the balance beam is performing a precision exercise at the risk of her life. That's athletic.

But every once in a while the Olympics accept a sport because the governing body of something like... let's say badminton... lobbies like an oil company looking for a tax break until the Olympic Committee gives in and says, "OK, you're a sport."

That's how the winter Olympics got curling, a game played on Minnesota winter nights with a beer in one hand and a broom in the other. It's a game, not a sport. I have a personal rule that nothing I grew up playing in my back yard or basement should be considered an Olympic event. This eliminates hide and seek, kick the can, chicken fights, badminton and ping-pong.

Anyone considered an Olympic athlete should be able to run a mile, even if that's not their event. The Olympics won't recognize women's ski jumping, but they're just fine with ping-pong and shooting skeet. Blasting clay discs with a 12 gauge is fun, but not athletic. Anything former Vice President Dick Cheney ever did is not an Olympic sport.

Handing out gold medals for badminton puts it on a par with the accomplishments of Michael Phelps, the swimmer. Same medal. If a badminton player won more medals than Michael Phelps, would he be crowned "The Greatest Olympian Ever"?

It was actually entertaining to watch the Koreans against the Chinese on the badminton court, each trying harder than the other to lose. Under the rules the loser would face an easier opponent in the next round, so both teams were taking a dive and making it incredibly tough for the other side to lose. They'd hold the shuttlecock by the feathers like a dead bird and dink it into the net. By comparison, watch the underwater shots of the water polo players illegally holding, elbowing and trying to drown each other. Now that's Olympic-level cheating.

Eventually eight badminton players were thrown out of the Olympics for failing to play to win, which isn't nearly enough. They should throw out the whole event and send Badminton back to cocktail hour in the Hamptons.

Next, we'll discuss dressage, a sport in which the athlete is a horse whose owner can hire a rider to accept the medal and weep to a national anthem the horse can't hum.

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