Opals coach's basketball game-throwing claim
ROBERT DILLON AND CHRIS DUTTON
The Australian women's basketball coach has claimed that some international basketball teams "strategically" lose games.
Opals coach Carrie Graf made the remarkable claim on Wednesday (local time), but denied Australia endorsed such policies or that it undermined the sport's credibility.
Graf was responding to suggestions that it would be in her team's interests to avoid playing the United States in the quarter-finals of the London Olympics, a scenario that could possibly be achieved by manipulating results.
At the press conference after the Opals' 67-61 win against Brazil on Wednesday, Graf was asked to comment on speculation that it might be in Australia's interests to lose one more group game to dodge a quarter-final showdown with the gold-medal favourite.
Graf replied: "Our focus was to get this win [against Brazil] and if you're going to consider anything strategic like that, you have to be absolutely sure that it can happen.
"Other results can go ways that you may not want ... if you're serious about trying to win [a gold medal] you have to beat [the US] at some point.
"Our focus is we've got Brazil out of way, then we're going to go after Russia. At this stage it's not something we would entertain."
It hardly seemed an emphatic denial, especially as "tanking" was a hot topic after the IOC decision earlier in the day to disqualify eight badminton players for allegedly trying to lose games.
When she faced the media again several hours later, Graf insisted Australia play to win.
But she does not believe that was the case with every team in the world.
"Our focus is on winning each game,'' she said.
"We've got to practice winning. That's the bottom line . . . we've got to win each game.
"We've got to focus on that, and then deal with the quarter-final and deal with the semi-final.
"It's about winning each of those games.''
Asked if she found it offensive to even be queried about whether Australia would consider the option of deliberately losing, Graf replied: "I don't think it's offensive.
"I think a lot of nations previously, traditionally, do those types of things.
"It's not something Australian teams have done traditionally, but over the course of time European teams look at the cross-overs and play different strategic games.
"So the question is certainly a normal question because there are cases across history where that has taken place.''
Asked to clarify her "not at this stage" line from earlier in the day, Graf replied: "Certainly not at this stage, that's not something we do.
"We focus on winning each game, regardless of who the opponent is.''
She denied that meant women's basketball was any less credible, given the implication that some teams "throw" games when it suits them.
"No look, I think it's a strategic approach that at times European nations have taken,'' she said.
"I don't think it undermines the tournament at all.
"Basketball's a game of strategy on the court, and it's a game of strategy throughout the tournament.
"I don't think it's an undermining thing at all.
"It's quite traditional for European teams to take that approach . . . our approach is to go out and try to win. Other nations have different approaches.''
Australia have won silver medals at the past three Olympics and lost to the US in the gold-medal game each time.
Despite collecting their second win, the Opals are still facing the prospect of a cross-over game against the US in either the quarter-finals or the semis.
The Opals can still finish at the top of the pool like they have done at the past three Olympics, but they are relying on results in other games.
Should they finish third instead of second and the US - as expected - win their pool, the Opals would remain on the opposite side of the draw as they aim for the gold-medal game.
Graf said it would be "un-Australian" to have any priority other than winning.
The Opals play Russia on Friday in their next round.
Losing and then relying on other results to avoid the US would appear fraught with danger.
The badminton players were kicked out of the Olympics after they tried to throw games to manipulate the draw, which suggests IOC officials rightly take a dim view of such debacles.
- © Fairfax NZ News