Let’s not let the controversies spoil the Olympics

Some odd decisions have been made in the Olympics thus far.

In a Judo match between South Korean Cho Jun-ho and Japanese Masashi Ebinuma, the 5 minute match ended without point. In the 3 minute fight that followed, the first point would have won the match, yet a score by Ebinuma was inexplicably cancelled out and the match restarted. At the end of the match, there was still no score (barring the cancelled-out one), so the decision went down to judges flags. Cho Jun-Ho was awarded the unanimous win by all three referees, but his delight turned to confusion as all three referees were summoned off the mat. After a lengthy discussion the judges were called to raise their flags, where the Japanese Ebinuma was declared the winner. Cho Jun-Ho was clearly distraught, and for the longest moment couldn’t bring it to himself to leave the mat.

Meanwhile in a fencing match, South Korean Shin A Lam and Germany’s Britta Heidemann were fighting an Epee match (Epee is a type of sword used in fencing). Already in sudden death and with “priority”, a fencing rule in Epee where one fighter has to have the advantage, Shin A Lam only had to hold onto the draw to be declared the winner, and with one second on the clock this seemed assured. However awarded a penalty and the match reset, Heidemann managed to score a point, despite the clock apparently not restarting. A clearly frustrated South Korean coach called an appeal, and Sin A Lam was not allowed to leave the piste until a decision had been made, since leaving the piste signals acceptance of the decision. After 70 minutes the appeal was denied, and the South Korean had to be lead off the piste by security distraught.

Saying that, I have seen some fantastic refereeing in the Olympics. Refereeing has to be 0ne of the hardest jobs to do as there’s no appreciation when a referee does well, but plenty of criticism when the job is done apparently poorly. As a referee (which I do for my club), you have to rely on what you saw, reacting instantly to every score, knowing where your assistant referees are, keeping an eye on the time and keeping in the back of your mind safety of the match and watching out for any transgressions. It’s never an easy job.

One match in particular stood out for me, in fencing, with the Men’s Sabre. Daryl Homer from the USA was fighting Alexey Yakimenko from Russia, always a noticeable fight. The two had managed to get to 14-14, with the next point winning the match and a place in the quarter-finals. The players were reset, the fight started, and both scored apparently simultaneously. In Sabre it’s not possible for both players to score a simultaneous point, and the referee was not happy to judge one score as having happened (momentarily) before the other, so asked for the point to be played again. The match re-started, and another apparent simultaneous point. Rather than make a risky call, the referee again reset the fight. After 6 (or so!) resets the American finally managed to make an obvious score to win. The decision of the referee, and his consistency of wanting a clear score, appeared to be well appreciated by the crowd, players and the commentators on the BBC. 

Thorsten Berg, referee of the Women’s Doubles Badminton, also had a tough match, where allegedly the teams were trying not to score points to help them decide who to play in the next round. A situation of blatant playing against the spirit of the rules appears by all counts to have been handled fairly and with dignity by the referee.

So please, let’s not brandish all referees with the same brush. Despite some odd calls and decisions most are trying to uphold the rules so we can all have quality competitions to watch and enjoy. And surely coming together to watch some world-quality sporting matches is what the Olympics is really about.

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