Italian stripped of gold after protest

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The Independent Online
Controversy hit the Mediterranean Games in Rome yesterday when an Italian heavyweight was stripped of a gold medal in favour of an Algerian after a committee ruled that the electronic scoring of the fight was faulty. It was believed to be the first time that the hi-tech computerised scoring method used at Olympics and World Championships had been overruled.

The ruling came despite an earlier insistence by the governing body of world amateur boxing, AIBA, that the verdict had been correct.

The Italian Giacobbe Fragomeni won the heavyweight gold on Thursday when he outpointed Algeria's Mohammed Benguesmia, the team flag bearer, 3-2 on points. The result took the crowd by surprise and Algeria made a formal complaint when it emerged that four of the five judges had Benguesmia ahead on their back-up scorecards. The fifth judge scored it an 8-8 draw.

The International Committee of the Mediterranean Games declared after a hearing that Algeria's protest was upheld and Benguesmia should be awarded the gold due to a "flagrant malfunction of the computerised result". Fragomeni was given the silver medal.

The AIBA's Bulgarian president, Emil Jetchev, had been quoted earlier as saying that "the only valid verdict is the computerised one, 3-2 for the Italian". The AIBA was not immediately available for comment after the decision on the protest.

Raffaele Pagnozzi, the secretary general of the Italian Olympic Committee, CONI, had said on Saturday that his country, which has dominated the Games, was willing to give the gold to Algeria. "We are willing to hand back this gold medal," said. "We don't know what happened. Maybe the machines were wrongly set up or did not work properly."

Pagnozzi stuck to his position on Sunday, despite angry accusations by Patrizio Oliva, the former Olympic gold medallist and Italian boxing team coach, that CONI's attitude had more to do with votes for Rome's 2004 Olympic bid. Rome is one of five cities on the shortlist for the Games and a front-runner to win when the International Olympic Committee decides in September. The former head of the Italian football federation, Antonio Matarrese, who is the chairman of the local Mediterranean Games organising committee, hinted as much on Sunday when he was quoted as saying: "There are superior interests involved."

Fragomeni said he would rather have had a re-match against the Algerian than "be robbed of the gold in such a way".