Subjectivity in sports: a necessary evil

On February 27, 2014

The Olympics were abuzz with concerns over incomplete hotel rooms, snowflakes that don’t open or most importantly subjectivity in judging.

The controversy over the Sochi Olympics judging hit its climax in the female figure skating competition between Kim Yu-na of Korea and Adelina Sotnikova of Russia.

Although less than half a point separated the two skaters going into the long program and both skated excellent programs, Sotnikova won gold by 5.48 points.

Watchers were astonished that both performances that were so evenly matched in difficulty and finesse were rewarded such different scores.

Immediately the event was cast into outrage and plagued with opinion.

The Olympic-sized obstacle brought into question the influence of subjectivity in sports.

Analysts have been looking into ways to limit subjectivity in scoring, while others have called to increase transparency in the scoring system.

My first response, to quote John Stossel, is “give me a break.”

Regardless of the attempts to solve back for bias, subjectivity is a way of life and certainly is nothing new.

Furthermore, when it comes to a judged contest, there is always one person who feels they have been cheated (usually the loser).

In many respects, subjectivity can be a compliment to the sport. Sometimes it is the only way that sport can function.

Subjectivity in the snowboarding half-pipe has allowed room for the sport to evolve.

Contestants are encouraged to push the limits and throw new tricks. Judges are instructed to reward this ambition with higher scores, and for the most part they do.

Figure skating without judging would be like a hockey game without a puck.

Although judges may not be perfect, without them the sport would just be a pretty skating routine.

Even in sports without secretive modes of scoring such as football, there is room for human error and subjectivity.

If you don’t believe me, ask the Packers if they should have lost their game to the Seahawks during the NFL referee lockout.

Even the replay could not correct one of the worst calls in the history of the sport.

A more recent example was the Canadian Women’s goal scored against the U.S. in a preliminary round in Sochi.

Although the whistle supposedly sounded, the goal counted.

As a collegiate debater I have come to understand and deal with subjectivity in sport.

Judge subjectivity is literally built into the some of the events we compete in.

Although nearly every judge will claim to be “tabula rasa” or a blank slate, it is easier said than done.

As a competitor, I am forced to either let myself be hurt by this or use it to my advantage.

Even if a judge was able to leave all of their experience and opinions at the door, there is still subjectivity in evaluating arguments.

It is the competitors’ responsibility to find out what arguments the judge prefers.

If you can’t handle subjectivity in judging, the easiest thing to do is not compete.

When it comes to controversy in judging, what can’t be fixed must be worked with.

For figure skaters the controversy over judging attracted a lot of viewers to their sport. Let’s just hope the sport can handle a little subjectivity.

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