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