You can keep your medal: Sarita Devi is not alone, others have said 'no' too

Sarita Devi's refusal to accept her bronze medal at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon has opened a can of worms. Some say her actions are against the spirit of sportsmanship, still others mention that this was perhaps the only option she had — and still more are doing their all to ensure she gets a modicum of justice even as AIBA starts disciplinary proceedings against her.

This, however, has been done before. There have been times in the past when athletes have refused to accept medals -- because they felt wronged by the referees or the judges. And almost each time, it led to the athlete being asked to walk out of the Games village.

Sarita Devi speaks to her Korean counterpart during the ceremony where she returned her medal. AP

Sarita Devi speaks to her Korean counterpart during the ceremony where she returned her medal. AP

Perhaps the most famous of these came way back in 1972 Olympics. It was the final of the basketball competition -- the US team taking on the USSR. The US team played with great grit and hustled their way to what seemed like a 50-49 win. The buzzer, denoting the end of the match, even sounded once. But then the referees awarded the Soviets a timeout -- they also allowed them three possessions in those last three seconds. And together it proved to be enough to allow the Soviet team to score a two-pointer and win the match 51-50. The Americans almost instantly protested the result but their request was turned down. They then decided not to attend the medal ceremony. To this day, the medals lie in a vault in Lausanne. Despite numerous requests the American team has never accepted the medals.

There was another incident -- from the 2008 Olympics. A case much more similar to Sarita Devi's. Ara Abrahamian, who was representing Sweden, lost his semifinal bout against Andrea Minguzzi of Italy in Greco-Roman 84kg wrestling because of what he considered “blatant errors in judging.”

The Swedes demanded a video review of the match, but the referees refused and did not even consider the written Swedish protest.

First, Abrahamian decided that he didn't want to take part in the bronze medal match. But eventually, he did take part and won the bronze. At the medal ceremony though, the Swede removed the medal from around his neck, dropped it in the middle of the mat and just walked away -- straight out of the auditorium.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) responded by disqualifying him and stripping him of his rejected bronze medal for disrupting the award ceremony. He was also banned from wrestling for two years by FILA, but the ban was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in March 2009.

So if the same fate awaits Sarita, she should definitely move the CAS as soon as possible. The earlier precedent will help.

There were also other instances -- in 1992, Russian weightlifter Ibragim Samadov was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal after he reportedly refused to lean forward to accept it on the podium. Then, after taking it in his hand, he dropped it on the floor and walked away. His anger stemmed from being bumped down to the bronze medal despite a three-way tie for first place in the light-heavyweight division. The decision was taken because Samadov weighed one-tenth of a pound more than his fellow medalists. The Russian, who was representing the Unified team, apologised the next day to the International Olympic Committee but they refused to reverse their decision and the International Weightlifting Federation banned him for life.

Then, comes a stranger incident. At the 1912 Stockholm Games, Jim Thorpe won the gold medal in the pentathlon and decathlon. However, less than a year later, a newspaper discovered that Thorpe had played professional baseball in 1909 and 1910, and therefore should have been ineligible to compete in the Olympics (which were only for amateurs at that point). Thorpe admitted that the report was true and the IOC asked him to return his trophies and medals.

This is where things took a strange turn. The IOC then recognized Hugo Wieslander of Sweden, who finished second in the decathlon, and F.R. Bie of Norway, who was second in the pentathlon, as the rightful winners of each event. Both men refused to accept their gold medals. In 1982, the medals were returned to Thorpe but the IOC continues to recognize Wieslander and Bie as winners.

These are but a few instances. There have been plenty of political protests -- South Africa being uninvited, USA and allies boycotting the 1980 games, USSR and allies boycotting the 1984 games and the black power salute. But for an individual to take on the governing bodies because they'd rather keep their pride than medals that they feel they don't deserve requires guts that go beyond the normal.

Updated Date: Oct 03, 2014 07:18 AM

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