'Tis the Olympics of controversy, falalalala-lalalala. Has anyone noticed that this is the year of controversy and upsets? The latest controversy in the Olympics involves the USA (no surprise), judges (no surprise again), and taekwondo (surprise).
Steven Lopez, America's two-time defending Olympic champion, came to the Beijing Olympics in hopes of defending his gold medal. Instead, he got a bronze medal and a questionable call from the judges.
Lopez had a 2-1 lead against Mauro Sarmiento from Italy in the quarterfinals. However, he was docked a point from the judges because he had supposedly kicked his opponent's blow below the waist. By using the "cut kick," the judges docked him a point and the match ended up going into sudden death. Lopez soon lost the match and played for bronze against Rashad Ahmadov from Azerbeijan
Steven Lopez from the USA fights Rashad Ahmadov from Azerbeijan for bronze. Photo from AP
Lopez isn't the one who's mad though. It's his team leader and coach, Herb Perez. Perez came out with allegations that sent the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) looking for answers. First, he said that the protest wasn't properly handled. Instead of taking 15 minutes to come to a decision, the Olympic Competition Supervisory Board took 45 minutes. Secondly, Perez said that he was giving no reason why his protest was "unacceptable."
He told reporters: "Unacceptable could mean anything from we didn’t file the papers properly to we didn’t use the right color pencil...Under the WTF competition rules, we should have been notified about the decision, the criteria, the methodology used, what evidence was presented, and what referees were reviewing it. We were not.”
Apparently, taekwondo could be on its way out of the Olympics. In June, the WTF held a conference and asked the 25 nations who would be competing in the Olympics to sign an agreement to not protest or file complaints in the Olympics in an effort to keep taekwondo in the Olympics.
Perez said: "We were manhandled. We were threatened not to protest at this event. I think that needs to be said. We were made to sign a document not to protest for the betterment of taekwondo. It was a very big thing. There was a table, you went up to the table, (and) you signed the document. You signed it in front of the secretary general (of the WTF) and you gave him the document.”
He also said that WTF officials had repeatedly come to him asking him to not protest or go to the press. While talking to the press he said: "I was asked to compromise (again) five minutes ago. They said, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’ The head of the WTF came to me and said, ‘Don’t speak to the press.’ The secretary general said, ‘Don’t do this.’ (Secretary General Jin Suk) Yang and (WTF president Chungwon) Choue said, ‘Herbert, don’t do this. Think about the future.’ ”
Seok-Jae Kang, the WTF director of public relations, denied that any such agreement existed. He said: "It is not an agreement. I would call it a resolution. A resolution on fair play. ...It was ‘Do your best to ensure fair play and judging.’ Appealing is up to them. It’s their right and their rule. They can appeal. Ask him the right wordings (on what he signed).”
Seok also said that teams were not discouraged to protest. According to the June conference, the document lists some lines from a document signed by coaches at the event, including an agreement that signees would “respect and accept the judgment and decisions of the refereeing and technical officials in all taekwondo competitions.” Perez took that as "you can't protest."
Iran's coach, Kiarash Bahri, didn't attend the conference in June, but he said he had never been approached by the WTF and told not to protest. He said: "The WTF wanted everybody to have more self-control, and if they want to make a protest, take the correct procedure actually, not to jump up and down and make a ruckus, raise a lot of noise. Take the correct procedure to go about it, file the complaint and then they’ll decide. But it wasn’t like, ‘Don’t make a protest.’ ”
Talking about the controversy, Steven Lopez said: "They (WTF officials) don’t think about the repercussions until after they make a mistake,” Steven Lopez said. “They know the power we have as a family and bringing limelight to our sport. By no means do I want to bring this sport down. I love this sport.
But sometimes, in any sport, there are judges, there are politics involved. Unfortunately, there’s not supposed to be that in any of the sports, but you see it all the time. Whether it be gymnastics, boxing, it happens. There are bad calls all the time. This is one of the times that it happened to me. It normally doesn’t, but it happened. It sucks.”
Hadei Saei from Iran went on to win gold after defeating Italian Mauro Sarmiento. Steven Lopez from the USA and Zhu Guo from China won bronze. Photo from AP.
As for Steven Lopez, he's gone undefeated since 2002. His family is also involved in taekwondo. His brother Mark Lopez won silver in the 68kg weight group and his sister Dianna won bronze in the women's 57kg weight group.