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The ISU's Easter Egg
by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato
March 28, 2005

On March 24, 2005, the ISU presented its Easter egg to Jane Garden, Jon Jackson, Judit Furst, Donald McKnight, Britta Lindgren, Ron Pfenning and Sally Stapleford. Except for Donald McKnight, who has been absolved of his crime for having "dissociated himself from the World Skating Federation and as the ISA President appreciated the achievements of the 2004 ISU Congress and reaffirmed support for the ISU," it did not contain any surprise.

The decision of depriving them all of their eligibility status, "de facto" banning them for life, was already adopted by the Council on April 9, 2003, in Washington immediately after the announcement of the formation of the WSF. Amazingly enough, my name was not included among those to be punished, although I attended the "infamous" press conference and was also the acting vice president of the WSF. When the ISU realised the error, they decided to delete my name from the list of honorary referees! Justice was done.

It must not be forgotten that in the ISU, the administration of justice is like a homemade cake. The Council makes the accusation, carries out its own investigation, evaluates the defence statements, and takes the final decision! All remains within the family; no outside independent and "super partes" committees are involved.

Not even in the dreamland of the ISU can one expect that the Council may contradict itself and reverse a decision "unanimously" adopted some time before.

To justify the unprecedented severity of its decision, the ISU states that the "Council concluded that the actions of the Persons Concerned represent the most serious violation of the Constitution and Rules in the history of the ISU and that the integrity of the ISU would be very much jeopardized if the Persons Concerned were allowed to continue to be eligible for any ISU activity for which the eligibility status is required."

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that in 2002, something happened during the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City that destroyed the credibility of the sport to the point that the ISU president, Ottavio Cinquanta, was forced to recommend that the International Olympic Committee award a second gold medal in the pairs event. Like a tsunami, this scandal destroyed and swept away the popularity of the sport, to the point that the ISU's contract with U.S. television dropped from $22 million to $5 million!

I have no evidence that the WSF caused a similar disaster to the ISU.

Nevertheless, for judges and former ISU office holders involved with the formation of the WSF, the ISU is of the opinion that .the integrity of the ISU would be very much jeopardized if the Persons Concerned were allowed to continue to be eligible for any ISU activity for which the eligibility status is required..

However, for Didier Gailhaguet, president of the French Federation and, worst of all, ISU Council member, and Marie-Reine Le Gougne, both responsible for vote swapping at the 2002 Olympic Games, a suspension of only three years was considered satisfactory. Never it was even conceived that these two crooks should disappear from the skating scene forever. On the contrary, it was the clear intent of Ottavio Cinquanta to make sure that the suspension would not prevent LeGougne from judging again as soon as possible. In a conversation with Sally Stapleford, then chairperson of the Figure Skating Technical Committee, Cinquanta asked her what was the suspension time that would allow LeGougne to come back to the position she formally held. The answer was that the time was a maximum of 36 months; after that, she would be demoted and have to take the ISU exam again. Hence, a suspension of three years! LeGougne is safe. The same cannot be said for figure skating and its credibility, though.

In the last ten years we had several cases for which the integrity of the ISU and the credibility of the sport were really jeopardised by the misconduct of a few judges. Nevertheless, Yuri Balkov, recorded on tape while going through "planned" placements for the free dance at the Olympics in Nagano in 1998, and Sviastoslav Babenko and Alfred Korytek, caught on tape cheating by Canadian television at the 1999 World Championships in Helsinki, got very mild sanctions and are all back judging. The ISU never felt that they would discredit or jeopardise the credibility and the integrity of the ISU, even if this was really the case. LeGougne will be back judging next month, April 2005, if she wants to.

But Sally Stapleford, Ron Pfenning and Britta Lindgren, who, while members of the ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee, fought against corruption and misconduct in judging and against the ISU laxness, did so much for the sport and played a pivotal role in disclosing the judging scandal in Salt Lake City--they will be banned for life. Does this make sense? Is this justice?

The WSF did not cause any damage to the ISU and its members. It died almost immediately after birth. But it probably hit Ottavio Cinquanta's ego. He must have felt that his own image was discredited in the eyes of the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, and his colleagues in the IOC. And this cannot be accepted. The punishment must set an example, to prevent any future crazy ideas.

The crime of "lèse-majesté" in our international skating federation is the worst that one could commit, and it deserves to be punished in the strongest possible way.

The fact that Donald McKnight was forgiven, just because he wrote a nice letter to the Lord, only confirms this.