‘Iron Lady’ apologized for verbally abusing judge, but doubts remain

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For Lisa Wright, an elite level diving judge from New Zealand, it was supposed to be the highlight of her career – the chance to be a judge on the sport’s premier event at the Olympics.

But the scenes that unfolded after the men’s 10-meter platform final in Tokyo last year hampered his Olympic experience for some time, says Wright.

They also led to an official complaint filed by Diving New Zealand and Wright against Zhou Jihong – vice president of FINA (International Swimming Federation) and one of diving’s most influential figures – for harassment and abuse.

This was after Zhou, who has been dubbed the “Iron Lady” of Chinese diving, allegedly launched a verbal speech to Wright at the conclusion of the 10m platform event to highlight Chinese divers.

“She was at the edge of the pool yelling at me and yelling at me – it was definitely one of the most humiliating experiences of my life,” Wright told CNN .

Later, Zhou was ordered by a FINA Ethics Panel to write an apology letter to Wright.

However, some in the diving community see Zhou’s actions at the Olympics as a flashpoint amid a broader standard of conduct that they believe is detrimental to the sport.

One of those who hold this belief is New Zealander Simon Latimer, a former diver and judge and now a member of the FINA Technical Diving Committee (TDC).

Following the Olympics incident, Latimer sent a complaint to FINA Executive Director Brent Nowicki in December detailing Zhou’s alleged “unethical behavior” which he said goes back several years and “compromises the integrity of diving and FINA”. ”.

This contains allegations that Zhou routinely trained Chinese divers during major events – including the Tokyo Olympics – and manipulated judging panels to benefit Chinese athletes.

Zhou has not spoken publicly about these allegations. THE CNN contacted the General Administration of Sport of China and the Chinese Swimming Association to get a response from Zhou, but did not receive a response.

Latimer’s complaint also focused on events following the men’s 10m platform final last year, an incident he says he witnessed and described as a “personal outburst” by Zhou towards Wright.

“Part of making this complaint is making sure an incident like this never happens again,” Latimer told CNN .

“There are many things to consider around the well-being of athletes, but we also need to consider the well-being of officials.” The final ended with Chinese divers Cao Yuan and Yang Jian winning gold and silver medals, respectively, and Britain’s Tom Daley, winning bronze.

Wright then approached Zhou to offer his congratulations on China’s success, but says she was met with a barrage of verbal abuse and the claim that she had not judged an adequate standard and singled out Chinese athletes.

“I just said I’m sorry you feel that way and I walked out and ended up crying in the bathroom, which was definitely not how you’d want to end your Olympic main event,” says Wright.

“It was very traumatic for me, to be honest, especially since everyone knows she is the vice president of FINA.”

Of some solace for Wright was the support she received from other diving officials, which she says agrees with how she had scored athletes in competition.

In addition, the event’s independent evaluator – responsible for monitoring the scores given by the jury – agreed with her score on two occasions when she gave a Chinese diver lower scores compared to her peers.

In a diving event, panel judges give each dive a score that ranges from zero to 10. Each FINA event has an evaluator who watches replays of the dives, checks for bias in the judging and assesses the scores the judges are granting

‘What am I in this sport for?’

Wright says he had no interest in making a “personal grievance” or “retaliation” against Zhou, but he was also aware of what could happen if no investigation was launched by diving authorities.

She believes that Zhou would have the power and influence to exclude her from the judging panels.

“In the end, I think my biggest question was, what am I in this sport for and what am I here for?” Wright says.

“I felt it was important that we do our best for the sport of diving, that it remain fair, because that’s what I’m here as a judge for: ranking these divers in the order they should be ranked.

In November, the FINA Ethics Panel ordered Zhou to formally apologize to Wright and Diving New Zealand for the incident.

Wright says he received the apology letter, “appreciated it”, but “didn’t feel it was something personal”, as Zhou was instructed to send it.
The panel also ruled that only TDC members should be allowed on the pool deck during competitions and that Zhou’s position at the Bureau Liaison – traditionally tasked with bringing TDC views back to the FINA office – creates “confusion, conflict and discord” and “must be removed”

In his complaint, which was shared with the CNN , Latimer alleges that Zhou provided training to Chinese athletes at international diving events – including the FINA World Championships and World Diving Series, as well as the Olympics – despite his roles. demanding neutrality.

“It’s absolutely unethical… if you’re training divers from your own nation, I don’t see how you can be seen as a neutral party,” says Latimer.

“I also can’t think of any other sport where you have a vice president in pool deck training and have such an open interest in the proceedings.”

Since the Olympics, video footage has surfaced showing Zhou training Chinese divers at the Games, while another TDC member, Colleen Huffman, says he has witnessed Zhou training at other international events.

“A lot of times she’s very subtle about it, but obviously at the Olympics she wasn’t subtle at all,” Huffman told CNN .

“For her, having her position and being a coach is a huge conflict of interest. It’s one thing if she helps out at home with the national team, but it’s another thing if she’s actively coaching an athlete at a big FINA event when she’s the main one. Bureau call.”

In a statement sent to CNN TDC member Dominique Philippopoulos said she twice asked to train divers from her South Africa at international events, but on both occasions her requests were denied by FINA officials claiming it was a conflict of interest.

This despite coming from a country where the sport of diving is small and the obstacles are many.

According to Philippopoulos, the South African diving federation has limited resources and struggles to finance trips abroad and cover the cost of buses.

‘Why don’t you like China?’

A third allegation made by Latimer in his complaint is that Zhou deliberately manipulated judging panels in an apparent attempt to benefit Chinese divers.

“Two judges have confidentially informed me that they believe they are regularly disregarded for judging finals as punishment for not judging Chinese divers as favorably as Zhou Jihong would like,” he wrote.

“A judge informed me that Zhou Jihong approached them at a World Cup event in 2018 and asked ‘why don’t you like China?’”

According to Latimer, Zhou has “substantial input” when it comes to deciding which judges are chosen to officiate at competitions.

He cites his own experience as a judge at the Rio 2016 Olympics, before which he says he received the highest cumulative evaluator evaluation score among international judges until 2015-2016.

But he alleges in his complaint that he “fell out of favor” as a judge during the Olympics and was only reinstated for the men’s platform final when members of the TDC Commission “convinced Zhou Jihong” to reappoint him.

“What worries me and a few others is that the judges nominated for the finals aren’t always the ones who seem to get the highest ratings,” says Latimer.

“There is certainly a discrepancy with some judges with very high ratings getting very few nominations.”

‘People are scared’

Since making his whistleblower complaint, Latimer says he has received a response from FINA saying the governing body will not look into the issues he raised as they were already considered during the previous complaint filed by Wright and Diving New Zealand.

However, allegations about Zhou manipulating judging panels and training during the events were not directly mentioned in the Ethics Panel’s response to this initial complaint.

These issues, says Latimer, are being “swept under the rug” by FINA.

In a statement sent to CNN FINA said, “The reports about Jihong Zhou were fully investigated by an independent panel that heard witnesses and reached a decision that is publicly available on the FINA website.

“The independent panel concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that the results of the competition were impacted in any way and, to the best of our knowledge, no other formal claims were made beyond what was previously decided by the independent panel.

“At all times, FINA’s primary concern is the well-being of the aquatic community and ensuring the integrity of our competitions.”

Latimer calls the incident between Zhou and Wright at the Olympics a “watershed moment” for him – the moment he decided to support the New Zealand federation’s complaint and subsequently speak publicly about Zhou’s behavior and his concerns about the sport integrity.

“I am well aware that through this whistleblowing process, I could lose my position on the Technical Committee,” he says.

“We have elections in two months in Budapest [no Campeonato Mundial, que começa em 17 de junho]. obviously I would like to remain on the committee and be part of the process to ensure that this type of behavior does not continue.”

Allegations against Zhou, says Latimer, were slow to emerge because of his influential status in the sport.

The “Iron Lady” of Chinese diving, Zhou became the country’s first Olympic gold medalist in the sport in 1984.

She went on to lead China’s dominance in diving, coaching the national team from 1990 to 1997. Today, in addition to being vice president of FINA, she is also president of the Chinese Swimming Association.

“People are scared, petrified of rocking the boat and losing their position,” says Latimer.

Huffman, for his part, says he fears for the future of the sport and the possible difficulty in attracting new judges due to Zhou’s alleged behavior.

“People will not want to judge. They just won’t,” she adds.

“We are already struggling to get judges, especially from the South American region. All the judges in that area are getting old and new people coming in hear bad things about her, how mean she is, how intimidating she is. Who wants to experience this? As for Wright, she is looking forward to her upcoming trial engagements with optimism, unafraid of what happened at the Olympics.

She is in line to officiate at the World Championships in June and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, in July.

Zhou will likely be at the World Championships, but that doesn’t worry her too much.

This content was originally published in ‘Iron Lady’ apologized for verbally abusing the judge, but doubts remain on the CNN Brasil website.

Source: CNN Brasil

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