Discussion of those badminton players seems to divide into two camps: those who think it is fine to exploit the letter of the law to gain strategic advantage and therefore can’t see a problem, and those who don’t. Bracketing off for a second the embarrassing fact for those in the first camp that there does actually seem to have been a rule against deliberately losing, it’s plain that this is just a particular instance of a more general syndrome. There are people who devise and employ elaborate schemes to evade or avoid (I never know which is which) their taxes whilst staying just within the law. There are bankers who stay technically within a literal interpretation of the banking regulations, whilst engaging in dubious practices which undermine the regulator’s intention. There are employers who try to evade workplace regulations by reclassifying their workers as independent contractors. There are states which harp on about the technical details of the laws of war as they happily murder civilians. Well sometimes we need to punish the technically innocent but morally culpable. And it helps encourager les autres to internalize the ethos behind the laws rather than seeing them as being just an inconvenient system of traffic control.
Rule-of-law fetishists, Hayekians, and the like tend to think this is just appalling. Legislators, regulators, sports administrators and similar, should devise watertight systems of rules within which people are entitled simply to go for it. But it is highly questionable that such watertight frameworks are possible, even in principle. So we need to give the enforcers some discretionary power to zap the bad people: people who knew perfectly well that what they were doing was at or over the moral and legal boundaries but didn’t care. (On the tax front, the UK’s plan to introduce a General Anti-Avoidance Rule is designed to punish just these characters.) Such power is, of course, liable to abuse. But that’s just the way things unavoidably are. The solution is not to pretend that we can make the rules work perfectly, but to make sure the enforcers are genuinely democratically accountable and removable.