Thursday, April 27, 2017

Team AZE's surprise disqualification

Many judo watchers were shocked during the bronze medal match of the recent European teams' competition when Azerbaijan -- then leading 3 to 0 -- was abruptly disqualified.

After securing a 3 to 0 lead against Ukraine, AZE's fourth fighter, Mehdiyev, decided to forfeit his fight against Synyavsky by refusing to engage and signalling to the referee that he did not want to fight.

The referee seemed to accept that decision and promptly gave the match to Synyavsky. But the referees commission decided to recall both players and gave Mehdiyev a hansoku-make. Apparently, that disqualification did not just apply to Mehdiyev but to the whole AZE team.

The next referee called both teams onto the mat and awarded the overall win to UKR, despite the scoreboard showing 3 to 2 in favor of AZE. I guess when you're disqualified, it doesn't matter what the team score is.

The reason for the hansoku-make is obvious. It's deemed to be "against the spirit of judo" to refuse to fight. That seems fair enough although some might find it a bit harsh to give such a penalty without warning. Perhaps the referee should have warned Mehdiyev that if he doesn't fight, the whole team would be disqualified. Then, I'm pretty sure he would have fought.

This notion of not wanting to fight once the outcome of the competition has already been determined (when one side had already secured enough points to win) is not uncommon. I recall a few years ago, a one team competition involving France and Georgia where Teddy Riner did not want to fight the last match because one of the teams had already won. He was told in no uncertain terms that forfeiting was not allowed. So he fought, and won -- not that it made any difference to the outcome of the competition. But at least he fought.

Some might argue that Mehdiyev should have been given a stern warning first. But the difference it seems is that unlike Riner, who had expressed his desire to forfeit before the match, Mehdiyev had actually stepped onto the mat, bowed and then refused to engage his opponent.

I don't know whose brilliant idea it was for Mehdiyev to do this, whether it was his coach of whether it was Mehdiyev himself, but whoever it was, they should have consulted the referees first and ask if forfeiting was allowed. Instead, they just went ahead and did this, thinking it was fine to do so.

Perhaps this was the refs' commission's way of sending a clear message to all that refusing to fight is against the spirit of judo. It was a harsh penalty to take away AZE's bronze but one thing is for sure, you won't see any more teams trying this stunt in the future. In judo, you can't refuse to fight.

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