By Claire Soares
China’s choice of Peng Shuai as the flag bearer for the opening ceremony of the upcoming Winter Olympics may be one that endures for some time to come.
The controversial choice, in addition to being representative of China’s domination of the women’s sport of badminton during the 2016 London Olympics, will be the cause of the most serious tension and scrutiny faced by sponsors considering a future investment in the Russian sports industry.
While it is unclear if the sponsor, who has not been revealed, will choose to cut ties with China, the dam may already be about to burst for Russia, as the Russian Badminton Federation (RBBF) opened an investigation into the 2016 London Olympics following Peng’s participation.
The surprise selection of the 27-year-old Chinese badminton player comes just a day after it was announced that American snowboarder Chloe Kim had been appointed the flag bearer for the US in the opening ceremony.
With the rest of the world, it seems, aware of Peng’s selection, the RBBF appears to have miscalculated the public response when it announced its decision via social media.
Putin’s eagerness to sideline doping, while keeping track of sport as part of his other duties, may well have contributed to the curious choice of a Badminton player as flag bearer, but the mishandling of the decision may have also seen Russia’s close business and political ally, the RBBF, lose millions by having its own flag boycotted, much the same way that the South Korean team suffered when Kim was chosen to represent their country’s delegation.
Whether it was a misstep, or a miscalculation by the RBBF, there can be little doubt that the omitting of the Russian flag will significantly complicate the future work for Russian badminton, particularly in view of the scandal that followed that of 31 other athletes from the Rio 2016 Olympics, who took part in a drug test and tested positive.
Even before the spate of failed drugs tests emerged, the RBBF was already struggling with the question of corruption. A recent biography about badminton’s rising star Soyoung Kim accused RBBF President Vladislav Zhelud of ignoring rumours of corruption within the Badminton Union which has been dogged by allegations of bribery and match-fixing since 2011.
Despite rampant cheating, it is no wonder that China has seen phenomenal success in the Olympic space. The recent culture of doping that has taken place throughout the sport over the past years, has only only seen China’s success increase, as the country has worked diligently to weed out cheats and repair a legacy that was marred by the widespread cheating of the past.