BY MILES DUMVILLE
Anyone who knows the intensity of competitive sport can fess up to committing an age-old offense: screaming at the official with arms thrown outward.
On Aug. 14, Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian stood on the bronze medal podium in the Greco-Roman wrestling medal ceremony. He bowed his head to receive the bronze, only to walk off the podium and place it in the center of the mat before exiting the arena with a fist held high in the air.
Abrahamian’s raging protest followed a controversial late call by an official that he deemed unfair.
But were Abrahamian’s outburst and bronze medal refusal at this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing just another example of a frustrated athlete, or did they slither through the gates of the Inferno-like realm of unsportsmanlike conduct?
Olympic judges and officials have not always been known for their accuracy. Recent examples include the 2002 figure skating scandal in Salt Lake City where the Russians surprisingly defeated the Canadians and this year’s women’s gymnastics tie-breaker confusion involving the United States’ Nastia Liukin and He Kexin of China. Based on this history, Abrahamian did exactly the right thing. He got the attention of the press and the world.
Abrahamian, the silver medalist in Athens in 2004, protested in this way due to his controversial semi-final loss to eventual gold medalist Andrea Minguzzi of Italy. Following the match against Minguzzi, the infuriated Abrahamian was held back from attacking the officials, who had called an extremely late penalty that took the Swedish champion out of gold medal contention after two rounds.
For these offenses, the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, disqualified Abrahamian and took back his bronze medal.
There is no doubt in my mind that his anger and disgust were warranted. On Aug. 24, the Court of Arbitration for Sport judged that Ara Abrahamian’s protest was correct and that the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, or FILA, should agree to hear future protests in the Olympic games.
In an Aug. 16 Associated Press article headlined “IOC strips Abrahamian’s bronze medal for tantrum” found on the ESPN Web site, IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies is quoted as saying: “[Abrahamian’s] behavior was not in the Olympic spirit of respect for his fellow athletes. Whatever grievances you may have, this was not the way to go about it.”
Further in the article, the IOC is quoted as saying: “Any disruption by any athlete, in particular a medalist, is in itself an insult to the other athletes and to the Olympic Movement. It is also contrary to the spirit of fair play.”
Contrarily, Abrahamian acted out in defense of the spirit of fair play. In an Aug. 24 article titled “Court: Abrahamian was right” found on the Web site of The Local, a Swedish newspaper written in English, Abrahamian is quoted as saying: “My semi-final round loss today was totally unjustified. The controversial ruling shows that FILA (the sport’s governing body International Amateur Wrestling Federation) does not play fair.”
The tradition and ceremony that serve as the foundation of the Olympics can blind officials, media, spectators and even the IOC from certain fundamental necessities of sport like fair judging and competition.
Ara Abrahamian did what he had to do to wake up officials from the ceremonial haze of the Olympics and remind them that without fair play, tradition is pointless. He threw a fit.