2012 Olympic Judo Controversy: Ebinuma Masashi (JPN) vs Cho Jun-Ho (KOR)

The 2012 London Olympics is upon us and already it’s been marked with numerous memorable and infamous moments.  Being a judoka, I am living in bliss as Korean TV shows all the judo matches with Korean athletes and often all the quarter- and semi-final matches.  The timing is perfect too because judo starts in the early evening and ends right around 1:00 PM.  So I’m off to neva’ neva’ land with images of judo on my mind!

Korea has done well this Olympics.  South took two golds and North took one.  I tend to count them as one country because…they are one country!  However, South Korea also has one bronze medal which will likely be shrouded in controversy for many years to come.

In the quarter-final match between Cho Jun-Ho of South Korea (KOR) and Ebinuma Masashi of Japan (JPN), the IJF (International Judo Federation) Refereeing Commission overturned two decisions by the referee and judges on the mat during the Golden Score period (or sudden death – first score ending the match).  The first where Ebinuma (JPN) was initially awarded a yuko score for executing a throw on Cho (KOR).  The IJF Refereeing Commission overruled the call and took the score away, thus allowing the match to continue (as the score would’ve ended the sudden death match).  The second was during the decision on who won the match.  All three judges on the mat voted for Cho (KOR) as the victor, but then the Referee Commission overruled that decision as well.  Needless to say, Korean fans were upset, and much of the judo world was in a state of confusion and disappointment that this happened.

Ebinuma Masashi (JPN)
Cho Jun-Ho (KOR)

How Judging Works in Judo:
Understanding how judging works will help you to understand how this happened.  Not if it was a good call or not, just how.
There are three individuals on the field of play, or tatami mat.  Two sit in chairs at opposite corners of the mat.  They are called “judges”.  A third is following the players/fighters, calling the action – they are called a “referee”.  These individuals are the primary decision makers of the match, and the vast majority of matches are called by these three.  However, the IJF also has a second set of eyes, if you will, that oversee the decisions of the mat referee and judges.  This second set of eyes is called the “Care System”.  The Care System is made up of two cameras set at locations that offer a view different than those of the mat judges.  These cameras are under the control and supervision of two additional individuals.  They are called the “Refereeing Commission” within the Care System.  Most sports have a similar function as the IJF Care System.  It allows for video analysis to ensure fair game play.  This Refereeing Commission very rarely steps in and overrides calls, but in this particular match, it happened twice.

After the initial decision (left)
After the overruling (right)

IJF Official Statement:
In response to the confusion and outcry from the judo community, the IJF issued an official statement regarding the incident(s).  A portion of their statementsis as follows:

In the quarter final between two fighters (the Japanese, EBINUMA Masashi, and CHO Jun-Ho from the Republic of Korea) during the Golden Score (three minutes sudden death period, where the first score wins) the commission intervened twice. The first time, after checking the video by three experts, to inform the referees that the impact of the projection of the Japanese could not be valued at level 1 (Yuko). A second time, when at the end of Golden Score, the three referees designated the athlete from the Republic of Korea as the winner. Indeed, the commission explained to the referees that the action, which had been recognized as a Yuko and then lowered in value, was nevertheless the strongest action to be taken into consideration.”

Essentially, the IJF is explaining why the decision to award Cho (KOR) the win was controversially overturned.

A Pointless Reward:
When a judo match ends with no points scored, or if the score is even, judges will award the win to the player who was more active, showing greater initiative and meaningful attempts to score.  Makes sense.  In this match, it is my opinion that the Korean dominated the play and thus deserved the decision – which he initially received.

There’s the rub though.  Was the “action, which had been recognized as a yuko” by Ebinuma (JPN) greater than the dominant play of Cho (KOR)?  The IJF felt it was “the strongest action to be taken into consideration”.

I believe it was not.

If Cho (KOR) had not commanded the action as well as he did, I would likely agree with the IJF decision and therefore grant Ebinuma (JPN) the win.

Having said all that, I actually believe that the score by Ebinuma (JPN) deserved to be recognized, which would’ve therefore given him the win without incident.  I guess this day the IJF just didn’t see things the way I did.  But, then again, I wasn’t their and this is just one fan’s take.

In the end ironically, both players won a bronze medal.  They showed great sportsmanship toward each other in the true style of judo as can be seen in their statements after the match (from Yahoo News):

Ebinuma – “I thought I was going to lose but there was all this support in the spectator seats and that allowed me to get this medal”….“but I’m feeling a bit bad for (Cho).”

Cho – “Initially I thought I had won but when it was reversed I was a little sad”….“but I had my remaining fights to focus on and I hoped (Ebinuma) would get a good result because he beat me. We both won bronze so I’m happy.”


Here’s the Video:


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