Low-rent scandal hits all levels of rhythmic gymnastic judging

There are sophisticated cheating scandals, and then there's the one currently consuming the world of rhythmic gymnastics.

The New York Times is reporting on a scandal that's consuming more than 60 individuals all across the judging ranks of rhythmic gymnastics, including both hopefuls seeking to become judges and proctors administering their tests. There is, however, no indication that the cheating in any way affected actual competition; this involved people hoping to become judges for events such as the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The International Gymnastics Foundation, or FIG, compiled accounts of the cheating, which the Times then obtained. Check this report from the Times, and see if this sounds like a far-reaching international conspiracy or a bunch of nimrods in high school:

The documents showed that in Bucharest, Romania, test takers clearly copied answers from one anothers’ papers, including the mistakes. In Moscow, 114 answers were changed on dozens of tests; in Alicante, Spain, 257 answers were changed.

The exam sheets themselves served as evidence of the suspected cheating — crude markups, blatant copying, unexplained bonus points — that proved as clumsy as a botched rhythmic routine.

One test clearly had been touched by more than one person — it was filled with at least two different handwriting styles, the report said. The documents provided no evidence that the suspected cheating had affected any results in athletic competitions.

Rhythmic gymnastics, while admittedly athletic, has more in common with dance than most other Olympic events. (Best not to let fans of wrestling, which has been removed from the Olympic slate, even know that it exists.) As such, judging is of paramount importance.

But this is just a few bad apples, right? A few folks trying to get an edge on the competition? Happens everywhere, right? The sport as a whole is healthy ... right?

"This sport is very ill," said Erik Moers, a judge of long standing who has not been connected to the cheating. "It’s poisoned from head to toe." Oh. All right. But that's just one judge. Maybe an athlete, like the recently-retired Janine Murray of Australia, who competed in the London Olympics, might have a more positive perspective?

"Judging issues in rhythmic gymnastics are almost as prolific as doping issues in cycling," Murray said. Hmm. That's pretty much the exact opposite of a ringing endorsement.

FIG is taking steps to contain the crisis, suspending many involved with the scandal and preparing to conduct tests in a far more secure location. But the cloud remains ... and as long as individual judgment is the standard for awarding medals, it always will.

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