CORRUPTION IN RHYTHMIC: HOW,WHY AND HOW TO FIX IT
Unfair judging has always been an issue in the world of RG and an extremely polemical topic. Some countries seem to always get more scores than they deserve in contrast to those from other nationalities in the same events with the same judges. How is this possible? Is corruption a real thing in rhythmic gymnastics? How common is it in competitions? And most importantly, what can be done about it?
Erik Moers gave us insight on this complex topic. Scores from previous competitions and old pieces of news were used to support the points we discuss.
What is unfair judging?
The code of points for this Olympic cycle, along with all the past ones have specific guidelines to score difficulty, artistry and technical faults. However, there is space for interpretation. Different judges may be stricter than others.
during a leap a deduction can be applied to the gymnast's score for the deviation of the shape. Depending on the severity of the deviation, the deduction can be higher or lower.
Even if the deduction criteria seems specific enough, a leap is performed in the fraction of a second. It happens quick, and judges certainly don't go around with a ruler to measure the deviations. If different deductions are given for different judges, it's not necessarily a sign of bad or corrupt judging. This is why the average score of the judges is made, without counting the lower and highest deduction.
In conclusion, most people would agree that different opinions are valid when judging and occasional subjectivity is part of the sport. The problem is when a certain judge gives that score not based in objectivity and being partial, but in supporting a certain gymnast of a certain country. This, unfortunately, does happen in different levels and competitions. This puts certain athletes that have worked very hard for a position on the podium at a disadvantage and gives the sport a bad image.
Cheating is something done consciously and on purpose with only one goal: give advantage and privilege to a gymnast. More often than not this would be a gymnast from your club or your country.
-Erik Moers, former judge, activist and RG enthusiast
How can someone get away with corruption in judging?
According to Erik, some judges can get away with over-scoring or underscoring the gymnasts they wish by intimidating younger judges with less experience. This makes sense, given that young and inexperienced judges seek guidance from other judges in the panel and they are unsure about their scoring. If someone with more experience calls out a score a newbie gives, the newbie will most likely change it.
This method is very useful for someone wishing to manipulate scores to their advantage, because if someone questions where the score came from, they are free of guilt, and they can't even be accused of being biased, because it's a third person giving the score they want.
That being said, how much can the corrupt score that one or two judges give to the overall one? Not much. But in big competitions when the difference in performance is minimal between competitors, a decimal of a difference in the average score of a gymnast can make the difference between gold and silver, medal or no medal, selection or no selection, qualification or no qualification.
We can see this happen all the time, especially in group routines
Some may argue that there is a system in place that embraces corruption. This is not a wild claim if one thinks about how it may create a cycle of corruption. When a certain judge agrees to favour a country or an athlete that isn't theirs, that country or club owes them one. This means that now they have a chance to get that favour returned to them in a future competition. This only perpetuates the culture of corruption.
Sources claim that a country [Didn't wish to reveal which] agreed to help Russia score above the Bulgarians in a World Championship. This is not a confirmed case and it hasn't been proved whether this was the case. However, as it's been mentioned before it is hard to prove corrupted scores in the first place, and given that the scores of international competitions do not add up it is not unthinkable to believe this is a possible scenario.
The fact that scores can't be changed after a competition without a very striking reason does not help. Going back into the recorded routines and confirming information about favoring certain countries or athletes is not enough to take a medal off someone's hands.
Many question Linoy Ashram's qualification, for example, against the Averina twins and the suspicious scores in some competitions, especially the results for the World Games in 2017, where the score difference was so small. Did she deserve a slightly higher score?
The red ribbon controversy
We all remember the red ribbon controversy in the 2019 World Cup in Pesaro (Italy), when Dina Averina got a knot in her ribbon. As many know, body difficulties (BD), dance steps (S) and/or apparatus difficulties (AD) performed with a knot are not valid and shouldn't be counted as part of the final score.
Dina did however get a 19.450 score that got her a silver medal. How is this possible? Erik Moers tells us he questioned one of the members of the panel about it, and the judge answered by saying that the routine was so fast-paced and complicated that the panel member genuinely did not see the knot, as it was constantly in swift movement. This raises many questions. The spectators watching the stream could even see the knot on camera at around the 0:36 mark, and so they did the live spectators. They were literally booing when the score of the routine was screened because of how outrageous it was for most of the audience.
It is hard to believe that experienced judges such as those in the panel could not see something that everyone else could. This is impossible to prove nevertheless. There is no way to prove that he was lying, because he never denied that the knot did not happen, he just claimed not to see it.
What makes people puzzled is the way the knot is not seen when Russia's favorite twins have it, but it is spotted in other gymnasts without a problem. In the case of Polina Berezina and María Añó -Spanish individual gymnasts- the panel didn't seem to have a problem not counting their difficulties after their ribbon got a knot in the World Championships in Baku (Sep 2019), for example.
Dina is certainly on a major lucky streak with ribbon, if you can say it so. On the other hand, one wonders if the judge table is sometimes suffering from momentary lapses of sight. Two knots – one tiny, one highly visible – not one noticed and routine scored in full.
This was a very obvious example on how scores can be manipulated, but milder, more unnoticeable alterations happen all the time.
The Code of Point's part in corruption
According to Moers, the Code of Points leaves still too much room for interpretation, and this should be change in the next cycle. The vast numbers of AD's should be limited too, since there are too many and it is hard to track them when judging. It's hard enough to judge a sport where every detail counts. "Was the gymnast on their toes? Was the apparatus out of their vision range?..."
The unbearable amount of AD's takes its toll on the judging of gymnasts. As well as that, it can destroy the young girls' body prematurely and makes them prone to long term injuries at a young age. Stay tuned for the upcoming posts, where we will talk in depth about this!
The connoisseur that Erik is also thinks that execution deductions could be done by computers, or at least we should explore that option. A high quality camera could be set on the four corners of the mat. The human eye has its limits, and as Erik puts it:
Take for example pirouettes (pivots), you should start to count it from the moment the shape of it is fixed... As pirouettes go these days with so many turns and an amazing speed, I challenge everyone to tell me exactly when the shape is fixed.
Sometimes, all elements in 1.30 minute routine are simply too much to handle for the human eye, and it leaves space for mistakes. People that are willing to cheat can take advantage of this space.
When there's a camera that records everything, you simply cannot cheat, everything will be proven on camera.
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has already approved to use cameras in the 2019 international events in Artistic Gymnastics. It is called the “Judging Support System” developed by Fujitsu . The system was tested at the 2019 FIG World Cup Series, then officially launched for the 49th Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany in October 2019. FIG is planning to use it for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo as well as a test, and it may stick around as a way to ensure fair scores and help judges on their intricate tasks.