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News and Reviews
Interview with Sonia Bianchetti
By Dr. George Rossano of Ice
Skating International Online
This interview was conducted by e-mail. Mrs. Bianchetti's responses to
the questions were edited slightly for punctuation and formatting. The
edited version was sent to her for checking to insure we did not change
the meaning of her comments.
ISIO: It is quite out of the ordinary for a skating official to write a
memoir on skating. When and how did you decide to write "Cracked Ice"?
Bianchetti: Figure skating is living through a very crucial moment. During
the last decade, in the ISU governing body, politics have seemed to
prevail over the interests of the sport and the athletes. Several times
during these years I felt I should write a book about my personal
experience as an ISU office holder and a referee, but what made me decide
to do so were: the scandal that occurred in the pair skating event at the
2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City; the way the ISU President, Ottavio
Cinquanta, handled the whole matter; and the decisions that the ISU
adopted during the following months. It seemed to me that all of a sudden,
the efforts by many sincerely devoted ISU office holders, through the
years, to improve the sport and the way it was judged simply vanished. I
then felt I had the moral duty towards the skaters, the honest judges (who
are the large majority), the coaches and all those who love the sport to
come forward and make public my experience as an ISU office holder.
ISIO: What kind of response have you received from your former colleagues
within the ISU?
Bianchetti: Many former ISU office holders expressed their appreciation
for the book and for the fact that I wrote it. Some of them found out
things they did not know or that had been kept from them when they were in
office! As expected, none of the present office holders said a word to me
directly. However I know that some did express appreciation for what I
have written and for the fact that I have disclosed some interesting
ISIO: Your son Fabio is very active within the ISU. How does he feel about
your outspoken commentary? Has it created any difficulties for him?
Bianchetti: We have a saying in Italy which tells: The blame of the
fathers must not fall on their children.
I hope that nobody in the ISU or in the skating family will blame Fabio
for what I have written in my book.
ISIO: In your book you make the case that figure skating is the worse off
for being under the control of the speed skating community within the ISU.
How is it that speed skating maintains such strict control over the ISU?
Bianchetti: The ISU, as it is well known, controls both speed and figure
skating. Since 1980 the President has been a speed skater. In an
international federation where all the financial resources are provided by
figure skating, this is strange to say the least. It is in conformity with
the Constitution of course, but, in my opinion, this is no longer
acceptable and figure skating should regain control over its sport and its
finances. However, there is no way out of it. At the Congress all the
decisions concerning the General Regulations and the Constitution are
voted by the representatives of both sports with equal rights. For a new
proposal to be accepted or a rule changed a two thirds majority of votes
in favor is required. This majority cannot be reached without the support
of the speed skating Members. It is obvious that the Speed Skating Members
will never vote in favor of any proposal that they consider somehow
against their interest. As I say in my book, it would be like asking
"Turkeys to vote for Thanksgiving".
In the Council the situation is even worse. For a proposal to be accepted
it is enough to reach the simple majority of the votes, which means 5
votes. The speed skating Council members are four (same as the figure
skating members), but with the President they become five. They actually
can decide whatever they want. During the last 10-15 years the demand of
speed skating and short track as to the number of events, championships,
seminars for starters, judges, referees, chaperons, coaches, meetings of
the Technical Committees etc. has more or less doubled. All this, of
course, has a cost which is totally borne by figure skating. Besides the
figure skating members have no voice in case, for instance, the President
wants to take a decision against their will or interest. The speed skating
side of the Council will always support the President whatever his wish
may be. In other words, not only is speed skating fully subsidized by
figure skating but they also control the elections and all the decisions
concerning our sport.
ISIO: The last figure skater to hold the ISU presidency was Jacque Favart,
over 24 years ago. How would you compare the operation of the ISU under
Favart vs. under Olaf Poulsen and Ottavio Cinquanta?
Bianchetti: The first thing that comes to my mind is that Favart had a
totally different concept of how the ISU should be run. He was a
democratic president and respected the roles of the Council members as
well as those of the Technical Committees, both in figure and in speed
skating. I do not remember one single case where Favart took a decision on
technical matters without consulting first the concerned experts. This
surely was not the case under Olaf Poulsen, as I describe in my book, nor
Ottavio Cinquanta, if it is true that the Figure Skating and the Ice
Dancing Technical Committees heard of the NJS for the first time when it
was announced by the President as "an invention of his own" during a press
conference in Salt Lake City following the well known scandal.
Just to quote one case. Although Favart, as a figure skater would have
been, let's say, justified had he interfered or imposed his views in the
conduct of the sport, he never did. I was chairman of the Figure Skating
Technical Committee during his time and what I can say for sure is that we
could always count on his advice and personal support, as well as that of
the figure skating Council members, in any proposal or fight we intended
to conduct for the sport, its modernization and its fairness. It was under
his leadership and thanks to his openness of mind that figure skating went
through the changes that marked the epoch.
ISIO: What kind of president and what kind of person was Favart?
Bianchetti: Favart was not an ambitious person and definitely not a
politician. He could not care less if a decision could be unpopular and
could affect his position or his re-election. If it was good for the sport
he took it. A clear example was the decision of suspending all the judges
of the Soviet Union for one year in 1978. Favart as a person was strong
and determined but also very human, generous, and understanding. He was
honest and unselfish. He considered the ISU presidency only as a means to
serve the sport and the competitors rather than an accomplishment of
personal ambitions or interest.
ISIO: It seems highly unlikely at this time that figure skating will be
able to establish its own international governing body separate from the
ISU, and a move for term limits at the 2004 Congress did not pass. Do you
see any way that figure skating can recover control of its own destiny
within the ISU?
Bianchetti: If the figure skating Members want to recover control on their
sport, the first thing they should do is to elect a president coming from
figure skating at the next ISU Congress in 2006. I believe that, with all
respect for Ottavio Cinquanta, it would only be fair that after 26 years
under the control of a speed skater, the presidency goes back to the sport
that provides all the financial resources. With the support of the new
president some articles of the ISU Constitution could be changed to
provide, for instance, that the election of the Vice President and the
four Council members representing figure skating, is decided by the figure
skating Members, as well as those representing speed skating by the speed
skating Members separately, as it is done for the technical committees.
Then it should be decided that separate meetings of the Council members
for figure and speed skating should be held when discussing technical
matters. In this way only persons who know what they are talking about
would discuss about problems related to their sport and be responsible for
the decisions that might affect its future. These ideas are not new or
mine. They have already been put forward by the German Federation in 1984
and ten years later by the Australian Federation, as I tell in my book,
but have been withdrawn or rejected because of the strong opposition of
Poulsen and the General Secretary, Beat Häsler, both speed skaters, who
claimed they were against the interest of the ISU. The question is: which
interest? That of speed skating only perhaps?
ISIO: The ISU seems to involve itself more and more in the internal
operations of its member federations. In its reaction to the WSF it
appears to have used several member federations to do its bidding to
punish critics of the ISU, and more recently it is pushing to force
skaters of member federations to compete in the Grand Prix in order to
compete at Worlds. Why do you think this interference is becoming more
Bianchetti: This situation causes a great deal of concern, in my opinion.
In the last years it appeared more and more evident that the ISU
leadership tends to forbid any voice of dissent. The Members, the judges,
the skaters, the coaches, not to mention the ISU office holders, are
scared to death to speak up. Just to cite one case, we can mention the
letter that the ISU circulated after Yagudin dared to express his dissent
on the NJS. Cinquanta said that this was just unacceptable!
The proposals submitted by the Council at the last ISU Congress only prove
the intent of the ISU to reduce or even eliminate the rights of the
Members. As a matter of fact in the new Constitution approved last June,
all the decision-making power will be concentrated in the hands of a few
persons of the Council or executive committee, including the right to
change the rules whenever considered necessary by those persons, without
the previous approval of the Congress! The proposals submitted by the
USFSA defining and defending the role of the Members in administering the
sports throughout the world and their exclusive jurisdiction in their own
territory, while making clear that the jurisdiction of the ISU does not
extend to domestic activities or persons of the Members, have all been
opposed by the Council and withdrawn by the USFSA. This was really sad
because some proposals were extremely important not only to protect the
rights of all eligible persons, and especially the skaters against
"arbitrary conduct" by elected and appointed officials of the ISU,
guaranteeing their right to the due process in all disciplinary cases, but
also to improve the accountability to the Members.
ISIO: How do you feel about the ISU trying to force skaters of member
federations to compete in ISU events as a prerequisite to compete at
Worlds? Is it not up to member federations to decide who will represent
them at ISU Championships?
Bianchetti: It definitely is a right of the national federation to decide
which skaters will represent them at the ISU Championships and the skaters
do not have any contract with the ISU binding them or limiting their
While I can understand and share the ISU's concern for the decreasing
interest of the media and the public in the Grand Prix events if the world
top skaters do not participate, I totally disagree with the tone of the
ISU circular letter and threats it contains. A better response from the
skaters would have probably been obtained had the ISU only drawn the
attention of skaters to the difficult situation of the market and asked
for their understanding and cooperation.
ISIO: The U.S. appears to an outsider to have been distinctly unsuccessful
in developing any substantial influence within ISU over the past 30 years.
Would you agree with that characterization? And if you do, why do you
think that is the case?
Bianchetti: I would not say that the US has been totally unsuccessful
during the last 30 years, but its influence, especially in the last 15
years, has been very limited and surely much less than one could expect
from one of the strongest countries in skating. Not only the American
skaters are among the best in the world, but it is from the television
contracts with the American TV networks that the ISU draws most of its
financial resources. This lack of influence depends on the fact that the
USFSA presidents and officials have no knowledge or experience of the
international skating world. They change every three years or so and they
never become familiar with the officials of the rest of the world,
especially the Europeans, nor are they aware of the politics and the
interests of the small ISU Members. The fact that they represent a strong
Member, the US, has no influence at all. Sometimes it is even negative
because the interests of a strong country most of the times are just in
conflict with those of the small Members which however represent more or
less 90% of the ISU. As in politics, to reach certain objectives it is
vital to form an alliance, to be part of a group. This process takes
years, it just does not happen during a couple of years or one Congress.
In the ISU each Member, big or small, with or without skaters, counts the
same. It is all a "do ut des", translated into English: I give you, you
give me. Until this is understood the US will have no influence at all, as
it was the case also at the last ISU Congress where the USFSA even lost on
ISIO: Two years into the new scoring system, skating appears to be
continuing to lose its fan base and its financial base. Why do you think
Bianchetti: In my opinion two could be the reasons. The first one is that
after the scandal in Salt Lake City, nothing has been done to restore the
credibility of the sport. To turn judging into a 'top secret' affair was,
in my opinion, the worst decision ever made by the ISU in its 100-year
Making the judging process secret and extremely complex surely does not
help to restore the credibility of the sport -- on the contrary! Every
single judge could be cheating now and the public would never know it.
This only proved an all too clear intent of the current administration to
cover up the scandals rather than remove the crooks.
The second reason for me is that with the new "Code of Points system" the
fans are completely excluded from the judging process. It was fun for the
people watching TV to award their marks, to compare them with the ones
awarded by the judges, to criticize the judges and express their agreement
or disagreement. Now all this does not exist any longer. These points
assigned by the judges and appearing on the scoreboards have no meaning
for the majority of the spectators. Maybe they will become more
comprehensible in ten or more years. Meanwhile, what will happen with the
popularity of our sport has to be seen.
ISIO: If you could make any change to skating, what is the number one
thing you would do to attract fans back to the sport?
Bianchetti: To give credibility back to the sport by demonstrating a clear
intent to clean the house, preventing crooks to be included in the panels
of judges in any position.
ISIO: What is the number one thing you would do to make skating a better
sport for the competitors?
Bianchetti: Take away all the strings and limitations that have been
imposed by the NJS in the composition of the free programs. Creativity
always has been the propelling strength of our sport , what made each
program different, interesting and attractive to the judges and the fans.
We thank Mrs. Bianchetti for taking the time to provide us with her
thoughtful responses to our questions.
Copyright 2005 by George S. Rossano; reprinted with