- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

ATHENS — These Olympics have been hit by so many scoring and judging disputes, it raises the question: Who’s watching the judges?

Gymnastics, swimming, equestrian, rowing and fencing all have been embroiled in protests and appeals over medal results. Three gymnastics judges and a fencing referee have been suspended for errors affecting gold medals.

While the controversies haven’t reached the level of the Salt Lake City Olympics figure skating scandal two years ago — there have been no suggestions of impropriety — they raise the issue of how such crucial mistakes could occur on sports’ biggest stage.

“It looks bad for the federations if their judges are not capable of judging at an Olympic level,” longtime Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said. “You can’t run the risk of having years of training trivialized by judges who are not capable of making the kind of decisions required.”

The International Olympic Committee doesn’t control judging. That’s left to the 28 international sports federations, which run the events and appoint judges, referees and other technical officials. But IOC officials are closely monitoring disputes and say the federations should work harder to train judges and improve the standard of refereeing.

“You should make clear to every judge that they are just like an athlete,” IOC vice president Thomas Bach said. “If you do well, you can come back to the Games. If not, you do not qualify any more.”

Judging scandals at the Olympics are nothing new. There have been plenty through the years, including the boxing decision that deprived Roy Jones Jr. of a gold medal against a Korean fighter in Seoul in 1988. Other cases weren’t so magnified.

“In the past, nobody discussed it,” IOC executive director Gilbert Felli said. “Now more and more lawyers are getting involved. As soon as anything happens, they jump right onto it. But the quality of the judges is much higher than before. Boxing is now doing an excellent job. Most federations are making a big effort to monitor the judges.”

The IOC contends that decisions on the field of play should not be challenged, that only cases involving technical errors or ethical impropriety should be subject to review. The Court of Arbitration for Sport, an independent body, has a tribunal in Athens to hear such appeals.

In the highest-profile case so far, American gymnast Paul Hamm won the gold last week after judges incorrectly scored Yang Tae-young’s parallel bars routine, failing to give the South Korean enough points for the level of difficulty. Yang ended up with the bronze, and his national Olympic committee wants to appeal.

The international federation, known as FIG, suspended the two judges who determined the start values and the judge who oversaw the panel but said it couldn’t change the results.

The case has drawn comparisons to the figure skating uproar at the Salt Lake City Games, where Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were given duplicate gold medals after a French judge said she had been “pressured” to put a Russian couple ahead of them.

But there are no such signs of fixing in this case, only human error, and the federation and IOC have all but ruled out changing the medals or awarding duplicate golds.

“The IOC has to stick behind judgments,” Felli said. “Otherwise, it will have to redistribute all medals. You have to trust the federations who are in charge of the sport.”

Americans and South Koreans weren’t the only ones entangled in the gymnastics controversy.

Greeks, Bulgarians and Canadians all questioned scores in the men’s competition, and the Russians yesterday filed a forceful protest with the IOC about the scoring that cost Svetlana Khorkina a gold medal in the all-around and kept Alexei Nemov off the medal stand in high bar finals.

Fans booed, whistled and jeered for 10 minutes to protest Nemov’s high bar score. A judge relented and Nemov’s score was boosted, but he still finished fifth.

At the pool last week, American swimmer Aaron Peirsol was disqualified within minutes of his easy win in the 200 backstroke. About a half-hour later, the decision was overturned and he was a gold medalist again. It turned out the mixup was because of a blank judges’ report.

In fencing, Hungarian referee Joszef Hidasi was expelled from the Games and suspended for two years Sunday after making several errors during the gold-medal match in men’s team foil. Hidasi made mistakes in six scoring decisions — all favoring Italy, which beat China 45-42 to win the gold medal.

“What’s important is, the federations are acting very quickly,” Felli said. “In the past they used to wait and discuss.”

Fencing federation spokesman Jochen Faerber said the organization carefully monitors and rates judges at World Cup tournaments before selecting them for the Olympics. At the Games, referees are chosen at random by computer for each match. Hidasi was considered one of the best judges in the world.

“He was performing very brilliantly in the past. Otherwise we would not have chosen him for the Olympic Games,” Faerber said. “Even in the Olympics, he was very good in the individual tournament. So everybody who watched [Italy-China] was surprised.”

Faerber said the federation may introduce instant replays at future competitions. Some federations already use video replays; others are considering them.

Meanwhile, the trend of taking judging disputes to court worries IOC officials.

“We have too much law in sports,” said Bach, himself a German lawyer. “The fascination of sports is that it’s spontaneous. You can share the joy of the champions. If the champions are being determined three days later in a hotel room, this is of no fascination to anybody.”


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