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Personal comments on the ISU press release on the ISU Judging system in place for ISU Championships
by Sonia Bianchetti
February 2005

The ISU issued a press release on February 4, 2005 to announce the successful implementation of its judging reforms at Championships level on January 25, 2005 at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Torino (Italy).

While reading it, I was stunned, to say the least. Anyone with a minimum knowledge of figure skating could see that the results at the European Championships in Torino did not reflect the performance on the ice.

The podium in the ladies' event was wrong. Slutskaya, of Russia, was over-marked in free skating and no way could she possibly have been put in first place; Poykio, of Finland, was robbed of the gold medal; while Sebestyen, from Hungary, missed the silver because of a mistake of the caller. Delobel and Schoenfelder, of France, finished second in the free dance, but they should have won. Katarina Witt and Daniel Weiss, commentators for German television, called the result "scandalous."

The case of Sebestyen is particularly sad and troubling, and raises strong doubts about the fairness and credibility of the New Judging System. In the free skating program, her second triple lutz (which was landed on two feet) was rated only as a double lutz by the Technical Specialists and was assigned a base value of 2.1. After the competition, the tape of the program was reviewed many times in Hungary and it was ascertained that actually the jump was fully rotated in the air, and landed after three complete revolutions. If this is the case, and it would seem so, then had the jump been assigned the proper base value (6), she would have placed 2nd overall thanks to her lead in the short program.

This was really dramatic for the girl and should be for the sport. What appears as bright as the sun is that too much power is concentrated in the hands of the Technical Specialists, and that something is wrong in the assignment of the value to the double or triple jumps if only ONE JUMP may move a skater from 2nd to 4th place. Does this make sense in figure skating?

The European Championships got tons of criticism for the judging, including in some Russian media, and the ISU reacts by asserting that the test of the system at Championships level was successful, that it is just wonderful, perfect, that everybody is happy with it. In what land, Mr. President? In ISU dream land, perhaps? Were we watching the same championships in Torino?

Under these circumstances, one would expect the ISU either to let the scandal pass by silently or admit to it and promise they will do their best to prevent similar cases in the future -- never that the ISU would issue a triumphant proclamation to reassure its Members that all is OK, that in Torino there was no scandal at all, and that just a little bit more education and practice for the judges is needed to produce an even better outcome.

Reading the huge press release, it appears obvious that the ISU is on the defensive; very likely, they are perceiving that confidence in the new technological monster is cracking, that people are starting to realise that the same weaknesses of the old 6.0 system are surfacing, that subjectivity continues to exist and will continue to exist in figure skating, and that the secrecy has only made things easier and safer for all those who want to cheat. Hence the need to try to convince the skaters, the coaches and the Members that all is going well. But what happened in Torino was fact, not personal, questionable opinion! And burying heads under the sand never solved any problems.

In the press release it is also said that "Apart from some early resistance and doubt, the response from the world-wide figure skating community has been overwhelmingly positive." To me, it seems that things are turning just the other way around.

After an initial blind confidence in the miracles of the New Judging System, supported by a massive campaign from the ISU, people are slowly opening their eyes and seeing the many difficulties connected with the practical implementation of the system and, after the flop at Europeans, the malaise is spreading like flu all over the world.

A good example is provided by the declarations released by Chuck Foster to Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune. As president of the USFSA, Foster had played an important role in support of the New Judging System and voted in favour of it at the last Congress. Obviously he must have changed his mind if, on February 5, he could declare that he has "great reservations about the new scoring system, widely criticised after Russia's Irina Slutskaia won her sixth European title last week despite a badly flawed program" and that "the same old thing is happening. They are doing protocol judging -- judging on past results. For the huge expense the new judging system places on us, I don't think there will be a measurable difference in credibility" and "Cinquanta is not interested in trying to improve the product. He is only interested in his spot on the International Olympic Committee."

Foster is not the only high-ranked official who has changed his mind and has become more vocal in criticising the system. Never before have I received so many letters from officials, judges, and coaches sharing my concerns and asking me to raise my voice on their behalf because they are too scared to do it themselves.

The ISU also felt the need to stress once more that the new scoring system was approved by the Members by a large majority, as if it wanted to protect itself from eventual criticism by the Members and throw the blame back on them.

Well, in fairness to the Members, I think it is worthwhile to remember under which conditions the voting at the 2004 Congress in Scheveningen took place

The atmosphere at the Congress was very tense and difficult. The ISU never allowed a thorough, open dialogue about the strengths and weaknesses of the system. The Members had to take such an important decision without full information on the costs involved and without first-hand experience in their own countries. In Scheveningen, the ISU propaganda was massive and the pressure enormous. To decrease this pressure and allow more freedom, a secret vote on this delicate item was proposed, but it was denied by the chair. The Members had therefore to express their will by public vote, under political fear of reprisals.

Once again, as they have done several times in the past, the ISU issues a press release that sounds more like propaganda for their product than correct and factual information to the Members and the media on what is really happening in skating.