International gymnastics chief wants to establish independent judges pool

Updated: May 21, 2007, 3:53 PM ET
Associated Press

REUNION, Fla. -- Gymnastics judges would no longer answer to officials in their own countries under the latest effort to remove politics from the sport.

International Gymnastics Federation president Bruno Grandi said Monday he wants to establish a pool of judges who would have no ties or allegiances to their national federations. The pool could be in place by 2010 or 2011.

"It is the last war I have against everybody," Grandi, speaking mostly through an interpreter, said in a 90-minute interview after the federation's annual meeting in Orlando. "If the people understand that it's only in the interest of gymnastics, in two or three years we solve another big problem."

The federation already uses a judges pool for rhythmic gymnastics.

Grandi led the charge to revamp the sport's traditional 10-point scale to an open-ended scoring system, which is supposed to give a truer representation of routine's value. The system has been in use since the beginning of 2006, and will get its biggest test at the Beijing Olympics next summer.

The change came after a series of judging errors at the Athens Olympics, most notably the debacle involving all-around champion Paul Hamm.

Two days after the competition, the federation announced that South Korea's Yang Tae-young had wrongly been docked 0.1 points off the start value of his second-to-last routine, the parallel bars. Yang finished third, 0.049 points behind Hamm.

Grandi's suggestion that Hamm share his gold medal fueled protests by the South Koreans that forced the American to defend himself all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Hamm was eventually declared the rightful winner, and Grandi said again Monday he agreed with that decision.

"Paul Hamm is the Olympic champion without any ifs or buts," Grandi said.

But the Hamm incident wasn't the only reason gymnastics had to change its rules, Grandi said. There also were problems with the men's high bar and vault competitions in Athens.

USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said he supported in principle the formation of a judges pool, but it was too early to tell what that would look like.

"I think what he's ultimately trying to accomplish is that there's absolutely no perception of bias on the field of play," Penny said.

Grandi also expressed concern that some don't fully understand the new points system, wrongly believing that more difficult routines are rewarded even if performed incorrectly.

"The big problem we're having lately is that we have to penalize very strongly execution mistakes or lack of artistry," he said. "This is the big philosophy I want to get through. You should win if you have high difficulty, but only if it is executed perfectly. If not, the deductions should be so strong that it's worse to do the more difficult thing."

Execution penalties are already higher than under the old system -- eight-tenths of a point, compared to a half-point -- but Grandi said he'd like to see them doubled. The federation has also held classes to make sure judges understand the new rules, and is using video replay so judges can review routines.

"I intend for the Olympic Games to make sure the judges will apply the rules correctly," Grandi said.

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On the Net:

International Gymnastics Federation: http://www.fig-gymnastics.com


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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