Sports Law Blog
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Friday, August 15, 2008
Two Olympic thoughts . . .
sort of related to law and public policy.
1) This week, I watched the women's beach volleyball (a sport I actually have enjoyed watching) match between USA's Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh (they of the frolicking with W while Russia invaded Georgia) and a team from Cuba. The match was a blowout and no one expected it to be close, so the announcers naturally had to find other stuff to talk about. Nothing unusual; announcers struggle to fill during bad games all the time.
What struck me as unusual was the content: Stories about how each one met her husband and of their first dates (which apparently involved some confusion about who was being fixed up with whom) and about what happens after the Olympics, when, the announcers told us five different times, both women would like to get pregnant. I am trying to remember watching a men's sporting event in which conversation turned to how the quarterback met his wife or about the point guard's family planning. Now, in fairness, perhaps it is more relevant for women athletes, who must put their careers on hold for at least a few months, although this story in Sports Illustrated discusses the athletic benefits of pregnancy and childbirth. But I could not get past the feeling that the announcers, needing filler, just wanted to talk about the personal lives of two attractive women whose uniform is a bikini.
2) Had the U.S. athletes not taken gold and silver in yesterday's individual women's gymnastics competition, the headlines this morning would have been about bizarre/unfair/corrupt judging. As it was, the judging did produce 1) apoplexy in the American commentators about inappropriately low scores for the U.S. athletes and inappropriately high scores for the Chinese and Russian athletes and 2) the sight of the head of the technical committee (the chief judge, sort of) walking over to the judges' table after the routine of USA's Nastia Liukin (the eventual winner), it would appear to lecture them about how good the performance was and too make sure the scores were not depressed.
I continue to believe that gymnastics is not a sport, because it lacks the possibility of objective scoring or objective determination of victory. And the early grumblings yesterday (which hearkened back to the glory days of the mythical East German judge) show the inherent problem with "judging," especially when what the judges are looking for is so mysterious.
One way to eliminate some of the mystery (and suspicion) would be to require the judges to explain their decisions--to identify precisely what points were deducted and for what mistakes. Adjudication requires explanations for decisions and that transparency helps the parties and the public evaluate decisions and outcomes. And even football referees explain what happened on penalties (some refs in painstaking detail). Why not require gymnastics (and figure skating and diving and other "judged" events) provide explanation, thus bringing some transparency to what is, for most viewers, completely opaque.
Or put another way: When Harry in When Harry Met Sally talks about having sex in front of the Olympic judges and receiving a low score from his mother, disguised as an East German judge, for what "must have been the dismount," it would be better if we knew it was for the dismount.