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Mistakes Prove Olympic Judging Not Foolproof - 2004-08-24


Heading into the last week of Olympic games in Athens, a number of judging mishaps have caused some hard feelings and, in at least one case, the suspension of three judges. But, this isn't the first Olympics to be tainted by judging controversies, and it's not likely to be the last.

Judging implies subjectivity, while timekeeping - Peter Huerzeler's specialty in the Olympics since 1968 - does not.

"You see we have a big advantage. We can prove the whole thing," he said. "Of course we had the 800-meter race and the fourth person, they did a protest. The coach thought she was ahead of the other ones and she was third and not fourth. We showed them the picture and he said okay you are correct. No problem."

If only judging had such a foolproof methodology. Unfortunately, humans make mistakes and that's caused quite a stir in the past few days of the Olympics, now in its second week.

In the case of German equestrian Bettina Hoy, judges awarded her the gold medal twice before it was finally taken away by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Although the Secretary-General of the Court, Mattheiu Reeb, says the decision was based on a technicality rather than whether or not they felt she was the winner.

"The equestrian case was not decided on the merits. I mean it was only a problem of jurisdiction, whether or not the appeals commission of the International Equestrian Federation had the rights to review and overturn a decision made by the grand jury. So this was not a field of play decision made by CAS, it was rather a procedural question."

Hoy had originally been awarded the gold for a three-day equestrian event. However, it was taken away after a review found that her horse had crossed the start line twice before the beginning of the show jumping course. Hoy appealed and got her gold back, then France, Britain and the United States' took the case to arbitration, where the final decision was made and Hoy was relegated to fourth place.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has taken up temporary residence in the Holiday Inn on a busy downtown street in Athens. Twelve judges from five continents are on duty there, under security so tight that even an accredited journalist needs a special pass to go to the conference rooms upstairs.

Mr. Reeb says the judges are available at all hours to consider Olympics cases.

"In Sydney we had 15 cases registered. Right now we just have eight," he said. "So probably more or less we'll have the same number as Sydney. Salt Lake was where only seven cases were registered but the winter games are maybe less big, with less athletes, less federations."

One of the more controversial cases has yet to be decided. Last week, South Korean gymnast Yang Tae-Young was given an incorrect starting value that put him in third place and handed the United States its first win in the men's gymnastics all-around title. Had Yang been given the correct starting value, he would have won the gold over Paul Hamm by just a few hundredths of a point. The sport's governing body - the International Federation of Gymnastics - acknowledged the mistake, and sent three judges home because of it. However, it insists the scores cannot be changed at this point.

The South Koreans say they plan to appeal the decision, because they were not allowed to file a complaint at the appropriate time. Mr. Reeb says if the court hears the case, it would likely only be for that reason.

"According to the previous cases we heard so far in the court of arbitration, it seems that the court will not accept to discuss the merits of the case," he said. "I mean whether or not the marks were good or wrong, this is not normally, if we follow the jurisprudence, this would not be possible to review by the panel."

Although the Court of Arbitration for Sport has been in existence since 1984, Mr. Reeb says it took 12 more years before the individual sports federations recognized the authority of the court.

"Here, like it was in Salt Lake City or Sydney, all paraticipants, all federations, all officials sign the entry form for the Olympic games, which contains an arbitration clause in favor of the Court of Arbitration for Sport," he said. "So with this clause, the court has the competence to be sort of the Supreme Court of the Olympic games to settle all disputes arising during the competitions."

The Court of Arbitration for Sport resolves not just judging disputes, but other cases as well. Last week, the court rejected the appeal of a Kenyan boxer expelled for a positive drug test and a Bulgarian Olympic official barred for alleged corruption. It also upheld the two-year doping ban on American sprinter Torri Edwards.

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