WSL: Medina's interference on Ibelli was "intentional but not unsportsmanlike"

December 21, 2019 | Surfing
Controversy: Gabriel Medina purposely drops in on Caio Ibelli to win a heat at the 2019 Pipe Masters | Photo: Heff/VTCS

The World Surf League (WSL) announced that Gabriel Medina's controversial interference on Caio Ibelli at the 2019 Pipe Masters was "intentional" but "not deemed unsportsmanlike."

The history of competitive surfing had never seen anything like that. But let's take a look at the facts.

Medina and Ibelli were battling it out on Round of 16 at the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters. Medina had to win the event to clinch his third world title.

With 50 seconds on the clock, Caio takes on a wave with enough scoring potential to send him through to the quarterfinals. But Gabriel purposely drops in on his opponent.

The crowd is in awe. The commentators are baffled. Gabriel Medina has just been given an interference penalty for his action.

"This might be one of the cleverest tactical maneuvers we've ever seen in the history of the sport. While we feel it was an absolute disaster or brain snap, it might consolidate his win," said Barton Lynch while commentating the episode.

An Intentional Interference

The truth is that Gabriel knew what he was doing. Medina's stepfather, Charlie Rodrigues, had yelled at him from the beach, saying: "burn him! you can burn him!"

Charlie was aware of the math. He knew that it was okay for Medina to drop in on Ibelli.

"I just played the game. I wasn't sure [if Caio would have gotten the score] - that's why I went. Sometimes, if it's in the rules, you got to play the game," Medina explained later.

Caio also had a few words for his opponent.

"The heat was slow, and I couldn't find any waves. I heard his stepdad telling him to burn me. I had never heard that before. So, he actually went on the wave and burned me," said Ibelli.

"It shows what kind of competitor he is. He plays hard, he plays dirty and does anything to win - that's the mindset of a champion. But next time, I want to get him."

Gabriel Medina and Caio Ibelli: there's a fine line between gamesmanship and cheating | Photo: Cestari/WSL

General Priority Rules

The WSL Rule Book has a long list of regulations regarding interference and priority issues.

However, there's one that clearly stands out. Here's what it states:

"If the discipline director and commissioner's office decide that an interference during a contest was intentional, unsportsmanlike or of a serious nature, a surfer will lose the benefit of counting their best event result when calculating their ranking on the tour," the WSL Rule Book notes.

According to Pat O'Connell, WSL's senior vice president of tours and competition, "the interference was intentional," but "it was not deemed unsportsmanlike or of a serious nature by the reviewing committee."

"The maneuver was deemed as gamesmanship and did not pose a safety risk to either competitor," O'Connell added.

As a result, Gabriel Medina's action won't have practical consequences. However, if the rules remain untouched, a new precedent has been set for the future.