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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

OMG! Olympic bribery?

By Chris Chase 

No.....looks awkward though: a Japanese coach handed over a wad of $100 bills to
the governing body of the sport on Monday night in order to file an appeal on behalf of his athlete.
Operating within the rules and regulations of gymnastics, a Japanese coach handed over a wad of $100 bills to the governing body of the sport on Monday night in order to file an appeal on behalf of his athlete. Kohei Uchimura awkwardly stumbled off the pommel horse in the final event of the men's team competition. His resulting score left Japan in fourth place. But team officials protested that his fall had actually been a dismount and should have earned points based on gymnastic's (confusing) scoring system. International rules dictate that an appeal fee must be paid in order to file a protest. Japanese officials quickly rounded up a number of large bills and sent a coach, armed with cash and the proper forms, to appeal.

Reports differ on how much Japan had to pay, but a report from earlier in the Olympics had a similar appeal costing $500 for the Indian boxing team. Judging by the thickness of the money stack and the paper clip attached to the Japanese protest, $500 seems like a reasonable estimate. Had Japan lost the appeal, the money, however much it was, would have stayed with the gymnastics federation. (What happens to it then is anyone's guess. It likely would have been put to use within the sport: ie, going into picking up that night's dinner tab.) Japan won the appeal when it was ruled that Uchimura had dismounted and should have been awarded .700 additional points. That correction moved Japan from fourth to silver-medal position. All of which leads to the question: Why does a nation have to put up $500 in order to correct a clear mistake made by judges?

The gymnastics federation wanted to cut down on frivolous challenges and make the process more streamlined. It all stems from a 2004 controversy involving American Paul Hamm, who was asked to hand back his gold medal in the men's all-around in Athens after it was determined that judges improperly scored a routine from the bronze medalist.

It was a typical decision of big, disorganized groups: React to a bad situation by over-correcting. The process may be more open now. But in going for fairness, these international federations accomplished the opposite. Big countries like Japan, China, Russia and the United States will have no problem covering the fee. What about athletes who don't travel with large teams and groups of officials? Tuesday, there's a boxer fighting from Mozambique, a country that brought six athletes to London. Some gymnasts are solely representing their nation. Is going to the ATM to protest a call a viable option for them?
How big a problem were frivolous appeals in the first place? Did gymnastics teams appeal any decision that went against them? Was it taking hours to get through events because the coach from Romania challenged everything? Since judging decisions aren't subject to protest, there's not exactly a long list of things a coach could complain about. It's certainly not so big an issue that it needed to lead to the shady visual of money changing hands on the floor.

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