In an unprecedented incident, the gold medal match in the 50m rifle 3 positions men's team event between India and Hungary was postponed at the ISSF World Cup on Thursday. The reason: the Hungary team refused to take part in protest against one of their own teammates - their biggest star and former world champion Peter Sidi - who, they said, was using "illegal equipment".
Both teams, having finished first and second after the qualification round on Wednesday, showed up for their match scheduled to begin at 11 am. However, after speaking to technical officials, Hungary's Istvan Peni and Zavan Pekler announced they would not be competing along with Sidi.
Competition managers later said that with Hungary not competing, the gold medal match would be held between India and USA -- who had finished third in the qualification -- on Friday.
The point of contention within the Hungarian team was a bipod Sidi had glued to the end of his rifle barrel. ISSF rules state that bipods, which when resting on the ground stabilise the rifle, aren't allowed to be used in competition. "Bipods may be used to support the rifle before and after shooting or during position changes, but bipods, whether fixed or folding, must be removed from the rifle during all match firing times," the ISSF rulebook says.
Sidi, though, argued that he wasn't using the bipod for that purpose, but rather as a 150 gram balance weight - what's known as a U-form weight. This is also technically permitted. "A lot of shooters use U-form weights -- even (three-time Olympic medalist) Rajmond Debevec. The arms of the bipod are fixed with a screw to the base. You can't use it as a bipod," he says.
Peni, however, was adamant that Sidi was in the wrong. In last year's national championships, Sidi, he said, had been disqualified for using the rifle. "It's clearly written in the rules that you can't have a bipod attached on the rifle," says Peni, who's won three medals at this year's World Cup.
Sidi has continued to use the rifle at the World Cup. Peni said that the team had confronted Sidi following the qualification round on Wednesday and had told him to remove the balance weight/bipod. When Sidi showed up for Thursday's final with the bipod still attached to his rifle, it prompted his teammates to pull out. "We are hoping this thing reflects positively on Hungary. That we can reject someone from our team who is not playing by our rules," he says.
The ISSF, for its part, doesn't seem to think there was anything illegal about Sidi's rifle. "If the bipod is fixed with glue, then it isn't a bipod. If you cannot move it, then it is just a weight. The Hungarian team will not teach us what the rules are. When one rifle is correct, it is correct. If the Hungarian team doesn't come, it is their problem," says Yair Davidovich, the technical delegate of the ISSF, present in New Delhi.
The 70-year-old Davidovich was nonplussed over the entire incident. "In all my years as a technical delegate, I can't recall a team not playing in their finals," he said.
Why couldn't Sidi simply remove the weight offensive to his teammates though? "It's like telling Lewis Hamilton, 'use wet tires, don't use dry tires before a race'. If you take out 10 grams of weight from your rifle, its characteristic changes. You work your life to find out which is the weight that is comfortable to you. This is why Peni cannot say 'use another weight'. Peni is not a jury in the World Cup. The jury decides whether my gun is correct. I'm using this gun for the last four years. I've used it in European Championships, World Championships and World Cup without an issue. I'm sorry for India, who worked so hard to make this World Cup, that they couldn't get to see a final," he says.