Gymnasts red-faced over sports judge probe

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 March, 2011, 12:00am

Tempers flared online after a Chinese gymnastics judge was accused by the sport's international ruling body of manipulating scores to help a mainland athlete win a gold medal at last year's Guangzhou Asian Games.

Chinese bloggers pronounced the scandal a national 'embarrassment', while other commentators in the international gymnastics community said it raised questions not just about the integrity of China's gymnastics team but also the sport in general.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) announced late on Wednesday night it had referred judge Shao Bin to the body's disciplinary committee for violating 'the ethical code and judging rules' during November's Asian Games.

The federation said Shao 'modified an execution score prior to its release without informing either the head execution judge or the superior jury' during the final of the men's artistic floor competition. Shao was serving at the time as a judge on the difficulty panel - theoretically a separate board from the execution judges.

Shao's adjustment of the execution score meant Chinese gymnast Zhang Chenglong moved from second place to tie with South Korean Kim Soo-myun for the gold. The medal was Zhang's first gold at the games, but he went on to win the men's horizontal bar the following day.

The FIG release said Shao had acted on his own initiative and 'with complete disregard for the rules in force', and condemned his attitude as 'wholly unacceptable'. The Chinese gymnastics team distanced itself from Shao's actions, stressing on Thursday that it 'always told judges to obey the rules and to judge fairly in their education'.

'Any actions from anybody that violate international rules are wrong and unacceptable,' the team said.

The scandal is the latest in a string of controversies that have rocked the national sports scene, including a series of match-fixing and corruption cases in domestic soccer. The gymnastics controversy has sparked heated online discussion both on the mainland and in the sport's international community.

One internet user posting on the popular Kdnet discussion forum under the name 'Ovo' said there was a 'litany of failures'.

'The 'judge-gate' incident has added yet another source of embarrassment for the already muchderided Chinese gymnastics team,' Ovo wrote. 'In fact, what is even more embarrassing is not the truth that has been exposed so far but the subsequent response from people involved in Chinese gymnastics.'

The author of gymnastics blog GymNiceTic said the controversy would further damage the country's already poor reputation in international competitions.

'This coming from a country that is known for cheating makes the whole thing even worse,' the blogger wrote.

'Though it might have been a very bad decision of a single judge, we can't be sure ... it definitely doesn't rebuild China's trustworthiness.'

But not all the criticism was directed at home - many commentators questioned why it had taken four months for the allegation to come to light and pointed to problems in the sport worldwide.

Some commentators wondered why the supervising judge, Fig technical committee president Adrian Stoica, had signed off on the scores if there had been any suggestion of tampering.