FINA Did Right Thing By Reinstating Park

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By John Lohn

LONDON, July 28. HOW often do we criticize the organizations which govern sports? Put it this way: Way more frequently than giving them praise. It's the nature of the beast, really. They're expected to get things right, and there is no pat on the back for doing the job well. But when a divisive decision is made, look out!

Remember when Commissioner Bud Selig decided to call a tie in Major League Baseball's All-Star Game of 2002? He was vilified — from every direction — for the decision, and the subsequent move to place greater emphasis on the Midsummer Classic by awarding home field for the World Series to the victorious league.

Most recently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has caught significant flack for the handling of the bounty system put in place by the New Orleans Saints. After firing off several suspensions, Goodell was hammered for also being the guy who heard the appeals on the matter. He's also been pounded for the way the NFL handles concussions.

FINA, the governing body for our sport, has had its share of beatdowns, too. It was criticized for allowing the tech-suit era, which made a mess of the record books and replaced skill with material. It's also been criticized for allowing doping in the sport, most notably the East German machine of the 1970s and early 1980s, and the Chinese of the 1990s.

On the first day of the Olympic Games in London, however, FINA should take a bow. It was forced to make a difficult decision, and got it right.

During the morning preliminaries, South Korean and defending champion Tae-Hwan Park seemed to do all he needed to advance to the championship final of the 400 freestyle. He touched the wall in a comfortable time of 3:46.68. Shortly after, however, his name flashed on the scoreboard as being disqualified. It took some time to hear why, but it was eventually stated that Park had false-started.

There was no sign of an early bolt from the blocks, nor was there a flinch of the leg. Video of the race confirmed it. However, the meet referee saw reason to call a false start and Park was seemingly denied the chance to defend his crown. Well, not so fast. Following the disqualification, the Korean Swimming Federation filed a protest and the matter went to the FINA Jury of Appeal and the FINA Technical Swimming Commission.

As lunches were devoured around the Olympic Green, the commission's members met and determined that Park did not commit an infraction, and was reinstated into the final of the 400 free. FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu indicated video was reviewed. While the decision revitalized the much-anticipated duel between Park and China's Sun Yang, it pushed Canadian Ryan Cochrane into the ninth position and out of the final. Ultimately, Park took the silver medal, finishing behind China's Sun Yang.

“The FINA Jury of Appeal met today in the Aquatic Centre and examined the protest lodged by the Korean Swimming Federation regarding the disqualification of swimmer Tae-Hwan Park in the heats of the men's 400 freestyle, and based on the recommendation of the FINA Technical Swimming Commission decided to reinstate the above mentioned swimmer in the final of the men's 400 free,” read the statement released by FINA.

The Korean protest could have been brushed aside, with FINA unwilling to hear the case and look into the events of the morning. Kudos, though, go out to the organization for performing due diligence, and ensuring an athlete was not robbed of an opportunity on the biggest stage in sports. It just happened that the ruling involved a big-time name.

While FINA made the proper decision on the case, the events of the day again raise the issue of official instant replay use in the sport. If that technological advance is put in place, these decisions could be more easily made. All officials would need to do is rev up the video, look at the call in dispute and make a ruling. At least there would be stronger evidence with which to work.

There are cases in the past which could have used replay, including two breaststroke races with dolphin-kick disputes. One was Kosuke Kitajima's victory in the 100 breast at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The other was Felipe Silva's win in the 50 breast at last year's World Championships in Shanghai. Meanwhile, at the 2005 World Champs in Montreal, the 200 butterfly offered a controversial finish when video showed Poland's Otylia Jedrzejczak touching the wall with one hand, a violation. That move handed her the gold medal over Australia's Jessicah Schipper.

Through his second life, Park landed another Olympic medal. The more important story, though, is that he was given the chance to compete. For that opportunity, he can thank FINA for doing the right thing.

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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