Monday, August 25, 2008

Judged Sports Rant - Rant [Updated]

Every two years I hear the same stupid sports rant. It always coincides with the Olympic Games. In some sports a panel of judges determines the winner. Figure skating (an anachronistic name), gymnastics, and diving are the sports most people think of as judged sports. Invariably, there are judging controversies (as in the Women's Gymnastics this year) where judges apparently get it wrong. Just as invariably this leads to comments like this:

Diving's a sport?

Seems more like ballet or dance than running and wrestling. That is, both certainly involve athleticism, but the former are primarily about aesthetics. [I]n a real sport, you don't have to vote for the winner, or wait for the results to be tallied.
Well, guess what, Numb Nuts? Wrestling is a judged sport! As is boxing and all of the other martial art based sports. It's true that a boxing match can end by knock-out, but that happens rarely at the amateur level, and doesn't happen as much as boxing fans would like.

But it's worse than that - even non-judged sports have referees determining what is and isn't fair or "legal" behavior in games. For example the USSR beat the Americans in basketball in the 1972 Olympics in Munich because of officiating errors. And even something as apparently uncomplicated as a foot race or swimming race can be impacted by judges. Two sprinters were disqualified from the 200 M Men's final at the Beijing Olympics because of judging decisions. A Chinese swimmer was disqualified by judges after winning a heat at the Beijing Olympics because she had ever so slightly jumped the starter's gun. I don't think anyone caught it live, but the officials invalidated the result after the race.

In other words, every serious sport involves officiating and judging. If you have a problem with some of them, then come up with a valid argument against them instead of some idiot rant against judging.

Update: I responded to the comment mentioned above with:
Sorry, but wrestling, like boxing, is a judged sport.
Pogo, writer of the first comment replied with:
Not the same thing. Synchronized diving by 12 year old girls and loop-de-loop banner dancing by 14 year olds is judged by aesthetics; entirely subjective.

Boxing and wrestling get points for certain moves (pins, take-downs) or punches landed. Tallying is not subjective at all. And you can always win in each by totally subduing your opponent.

You can win boxing and wrestling ugly. And the participants often bleed. Neither is possible in gymnastics winners. Never ever.
To which I retorted:
Boxing and wrestling get points for certain moves (pins, take-downs) or punches landed. Tallying is not subjective at all.

Then you show you didn't actually watch the boxing at this Olympics, as subjective tallying was once again a problem. (And is a problem with amateur boxing in general.)

And you can always win in each by totally subduing your opponent.

A pinfall in wrestling is something that is called by the referee and confirmed by the other judges. Again, officials make their presense felt.

Also, there was a big stink when one wrestler gave up his medal because he felt he had been cheated by the officials. He had also gotten screwed over in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The Court for Arbitration of Sport has ruled that the wrestler had good reason to be upset.

In other words, if you had followed Olympic boxing and wrestling you would know that there had been problems because of the judging.

You can win boxing and wrestling ugly. And the participants often bleed. Neither is possible in gymnastics winners. Never ever.

A bronze medal was won in the female gymanstics events by someone who fell on her dismount. That was certainly winning ugly. And if bleeding is a requirement for sport you may as well toss out all of the track events.

You can keep trying Pogo, but I'll out point you all night and all day tomorrow on this topic. It'll make for fine sport.


bill said...


Icepick said...

You know, if people don't like certain sports, I'm fine with that. But the whole judged/non-judged thing is bull. Too many of the old traditional sports are judged for that division to hold up.

(Apparently amateur wrestling is getting to be as bad as amateur boxing as far as dishonest or bad scoring goes. I also recall that fencing has had problems with rigged competitions.)

Personally, I think the IOC can put whatever they want into the Olympic games. I only plan on watching the stuff I like anyway. And some of the judged stuff is far more entertaining than some of the more objective sports. You might not like gymnastics, but it beats Hell out of triple jump for entertainment AND skill. Also the criteria for various apparatus ARE clearly delineated before hand. Incompetent judges are a problem, but more often than not the results are correct, and clear.

On the other hand, I can never tell how they can determine very small variances in the long jump. One of the winners at the Games this year won by one centimeter. Can they REALLY judge the lengths that well with all of that dirt being kicked around?

XWL said...

There's a technological fix available for boxing, at least. Adopt a similar system as in fencing, where opponents are sensored. Put sensors on the whites of the glove, and sensors on the front of the singlet, and front of the head gear. Have 'judges' review the scoring blows after each round, to make sure that an illegal blow wasn't scored as a legal blow, but other than that, let the tech do the scoring.

Would make everyone a lot saner, and watching the sport a lot less frustrating.

(or take off all the gear, allow pros in, and let them knock each other's blocks off like god intended)

justkim said...

Then there were these instances of big fun in Taekwondo, which may cease to be an Olympic sport.

bill said...

Then there's the William Saletan article questioning whether Michael Phelps won a race because the touchpad records who first touched it hard enough to trigger the sensor, not necessarily who touched it first.

Icepick said...

Saletan's article makes an excellent point at the end:

I'm not saying the touch-pad system is fishy. It beats the heck out of the old stopwatch method, not to mention the mysteries of judging gymnastics. It's the fairest, most precise system around. And that's the point: Even the most precise system leaves a gray area. In this case, it's the area between touching and pressing. Did Phelps beat Cavic to the wall? We'll never know.

However, I'm disappointed that he didn't make reference to these pictures. I don't even think that these photos are absolutely conclussive, but they go a long way to establishing the result.

XWL, fencing has had problems with its scoring method, and has had problems with match fixing in the larger sense. Between the problems with the swimming sensors and the problems in fencing I don't think you're proposed solution really helps. As Teddy Atlas put it, it would add the illusion of impartiality while obscuring the human involvement.

More seriously for boxing, the rules changes that have already been made (following the Roy Jones Jr. debacle in Seoul 1988) have actually changed the way amateur boutes are faught, and for the worse. They're damned near unwatchable these days. The boxers have adjusted to the scoring rules. Instead, the scoring rules should reflect the sport of boxing.

In other words, in the human sport of boxing wew either need to go back to the last man standing rules (which would be both impractical and impolitic in the modern setting) or we should go back to the judged system of the past. The enforcement should be not on the scoring in match, but in ensuring that the judges are fair and competent beforehand.

And thanks for the Taekwondo articles, Hon. I kept forgetting to look those up but now I don't have to.

Ultimately it comes down to this: These are human sports. Their will be problems with judging and scoring regardless of what we try. So we should strive not for the appearance of impartiality imparted by completely removing humans as judges of scored events, but in doing everything we can to make sure the judges are the best possible humans for the job.

justkim said...

More precisely, any sport with rules, no matter how hard and fast and concrete those rules seem, will have to have those rules interpreted at some point. Whether the goal is to determine if a triple toe loop was properly executed, if a punch really a connected with appropriate force, or if every contestant started at the exact same time, some person or committee is going to have to make a judgement. Thus all sports are ultimately judged, and the results can always be called into question.