LONDON: The Olympic judo quarter-final between world champion Masashi Ebinuma and Cho Jun-Ho of South Korea descended into farce on Sunday after Cho was awarded victory, only for his Japanese rival to be declared the winner moments later.
The under-66kg fight remained level after a five-minute contest, plus an extra three minutes of golden score, meaning it went to a judges’ decision.
All three judges on the mat awarded the bout to Cho, clad in blue, but the International Judo Federation’s Refereeing Commission then intervened.
Following frantic discussions on the sidelines, referees director Juan Carlos Barcos, who had been seen consulting federation president Marius Vizer, called the judges over and seemingly told them to change their minds.
The three judges then went back onto the mat and having originally all lifted blue flags denoting a Cho victory, this time thrust up three white ones instead.
Ebinuma was declared the winner and although he lost to eventual gold medallist Lasha Shavdatuashvili of Georgia in the semis, both he and Cho went on to take the two bronze medals.
When the original decision was made it brought protests from the crowd and Ebinuma felt that helped him.
"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," he said.
"But I’m feeling a bit bad for (Cho)."
Having matched Ebinuma’s medal, the Korean let sleeping dogs lie.
"Initially I thought I had won but when it was reversed I was a little sad," he said.
"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."
Federation general secretary Jean-Luc Rouge told AFP the move was made as it was believed an Ebinuma attack had not been scored.
"The referees weren’t told to change their minds, they were merely reminded about an incident (an attack by Ebinuma that could have scored) that should have influenced their decision," he said.
"It had escaped their minds but having reconsidered it they then gave their modified verdicts."
When put to him that the incident had been damaging for the federation, Rouge added: “It’s better that the federation is damaged rather than judo.”
The crowd, who were upset over the original decision and jeered loudly, became even more vocal following the farcical overturn and Cho was afforded a standing ovation as he left the mat.
Already, during the sudden death golden score period, the referees commission had overturned the award of a winning score for Ebinuma by the judges - the incident the commission then reminded the judges to consider in their later decision.
For the first time at the Olympics, video replay technology is being used to review contentious scoring but the over-rule of a judges decision following a draw has never been done before.
The federation later put out a statement trying to clarify its ruling.
"The International Judo Federation (IJF) is strongly committed to equity and, as part of our sport judo, to the development of all the tools that in our competitions help the referees to make the right decisions, so that the best fighters win.
"In order to achieve this, a video system was set up and has proved successful.
"The referee and the two judges of the fight, after having received the details from the experts commission, decided to change their decision and give victory to the Japanese.
"The IJF states that this is the final and right decision."