To most ordinary Chinese, the rules of the Olympic Games perhaps once seemed as irrelevant as the rules of UN conferences. However, several incidents over the past week during the London Olympic Games, combined with extensive public attention enabled by the growing popularity of social networking sites, have seen the rules of these games becoming one of the hottest topics in China.
It began with eight badminton players, including China's Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, who were disqualified from the women's doubles after deliberately threw their matches in order to secure better draws in later rounds.
A few days later, German-born British cyclist Philip Hindes admitted that he crashed on purpose during the qualifying round of the men's team sprint on Thursday in order to restart a round the team was losing to Germany.
But the International Cycling Union ruled the result was not in question, and the British cycling team later claimed that Hindes' comment was a mistranslation.
On the same day, China's cycling team found itself in another drama, after the referee of the women's team sprint insisted that the Chinese team broke the rules and awarded its gold medal to Germany. China's appeal of this decision was turned down, and the team was fined 200 Swiss francs ($206) for ignoring orders.
These incidents directly challenged Chinese understanding of the principle of international rules. The Chinese has started to realize now that even in the Olympic Games, where rules are well-established and fixed, issues like "double standards" can still exist.
They also notice that rules are not simply set to prevent cheating and demand unconditional obedience, but can be challenged and be used to fight for one's interests.
Besides, since the people who create, implement and are governed by these rules are no saints, they will make mistakes and the rules will have flaws. Thus, the main function of rules is not to eradicate contradictions and mistakes, but to ensure game players to play in a regulated manner.
Previously, the Chinese were influenced by the belief that rules set by international bodies are well-considered and fair. This naive perception shaped Chinese mentality in dealing with these rules, in that they preferred to obey than to question them. Obeying rules also matches nicely with traditional Confucian norms, which explains why the mainstream media in China has been demanding Chinese athletes behave in a nearly saintly fashion during the London Games.
Ironically, both the organizers of the Olympic Games and China's counterparts in these competitions, from the South Koreans to the British, have demonstrated our naivety of what rules are really for.
Rules are neither for obeying nor for breaking, but are there for gain. They are not designed to prevent cheating, but to give a frame of what can and cannot be done in a competition. Taking advantages of the rules wisely and benefiting by them is key to winning.
Choosing meek compliance rather than making reasonable appeals will not earn any compliments for sportsmanship. It will only be labeled as weak.
Abandoning opportunities for legally exploiting rules, which have been constantly adopted by others, has nothing to do with being ethical but only shows one's lack of understanding with and skill in handling the rules.
No matter how strong a team is, without the ability to use the rules, it will lose the competition and its appeal, and even be fined for arguing. This is the reality of not only competitive sports, but also our world.
If losing a few medals can wake China up from the blind obedience of international rules and facilitate debates in its society about the misperception of rules, then such losses are worth it.
In fact, outside the Olympic Games, China is also challenged by many other international issues such as the Diaoyu Islands dispute, that will require a new understanding of international rules.
Learning what rules the outside world really plays by should be one of the main goals of our participation in the London Games.
The author is a lecturer in the Department of International Politics at Fudan University. firstname.lastname@example.org
China's badminton team, take back your apology! You have nothing to apologize about. The British rowers did pretty much the same during the 1948 London Olympic Games' double sculls competition and were hailed as legends.
Given that China's solar and telecommunication enterprises have been constantly ruled against by so-called international rules, you should wake up from your daydreaming and keep on fighting to change these rules one day.
Chinese badminton players were disqualified for throwing the match.
However, British cyclists were awarded gold medals even after they admitted crashing on purpose and the referee insisted that this is a legal use of the rules.
Yet when Chinese cyclists appealed for evidence of a ruling that stripped them of their gold medal, they were fined. These double standards are irritating, and those ridiculous game rules should be changed immediately.
Throwing matches is shameful, but disqualifying players for this shames the Badminton World Federation. Referees getting more time in the limelight is a shame for any competition, while frequent appeals and the stripping of gold medals without any reason shame the Olympic Games.
Restarting a heat for a deliberate crash and a broken seat shames the host country, while the problems constantly spotted in the organizing and running of the games shame London.
The Badminton World Federation and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are primarily responsible for the recent badminton scandals.
The former has designed a game rule that is naturally flawed, as it allows countries to send multiple teams to participate in group and knockout matches. This will inevitably drive players to throw their matches under certain conditions.
As for the latter, it has become confused about what the Olympic Games really is: a grand competition between individual athletes or a competition between nations.
In fact, over the past century, the IOC and national governments have effectively turned the games into a competition of national strength.
This not only drives countries to set up sports regimes that channel national resources directly into winning these competitions, but also creating a clash between individual players and nations, forcing individuals to sometimes give up their interests for their nations. The IOC should acknowledge this and build the rules accordingly.
Over the past century, China has realized three Olympic wishes it made after the 1908 London Olympic Games: to have a player competing in the Olympic Games, to have a team competing in the Olympic Games, and to host an Olympic Games. Now in the 2012 London Olympic Games, China should make one more wish: to be able to challenge and change international sports rules.
Hopefully this won't take another century.