Text of Ottavio Cinquanta's Letter to the ISU Council

Editor's note

A hardcopy of this letter was forwarded to me anonymously. (It arrived by US Mail in an envelope without a return address.) It appears to be the document previously described in an October 8 article in The Globe and Mail. That article is no longer available online, but you can read a summary and some quotes from it here.

The copy I received obviously passed through several generations of faxes and photocopies and the text is blurred and hard to read in places. I have marked the few words in the text that I was not sure I was deciphering correctly. Some of the grammar and punctuation seemed a little odd to me, but any typos are probably mine.

I did not receive a copy of the AP article mentioned as an attachment, but I believe it was this one by Barry Wilner dated September 25.

Text of the letter

[ISU Letterhead]

To: Council Members
    Technical Committees Figure Skating, Ice Dancing, Synchronized Skating
    Management Commission of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating
    Coordinators of the Senior and Junior Grand Prix

c.c: General Secretary

Milan, 1 October 2002

Dear Friends,

You will find attached a release of the Associated Press (AP) of September 26, 2002, whose comment is mainly formed by expressions of skaters, where the comments released are not exactly in favor with the effort of the ISU to form and implement a new judging system in Figure Skating.

The opinion of the skaters can be respected, but it is more difficult to accept them. Just for the avoidance of misunderstanding, I do not say this because it deals with athletes that are leaving the ISU, who could therefore be inclined to express concern for the ISU procedures. They will mostly skate for other organizers and in the past we have had similar situations with other talent.

Alexei Yagudin, it appears is not about to quit the ISU, but he is also skeptical of the new judging system. That is why I believe consideration shall be given to the concerns expressed even if, I repeat, it is not possible to accept such criticism. Why?

The system in place (Canadian proposal accepted by the Congress) and the system in preparation (the ISU project), do not have the aim to hide the work of the judges. On the contrary, it has been pointed out many times that all the major competitions will be assessed to determine if anomalies exist and in the affirmative the judge/s concerned would be submitted to sanction. This is clearly in the system as printed in the ISU book.

More important than this remark is that in Salt Lake City, the ISU has taken important decisions further to the case of the Pairs event that resulted in the modification of the first two places, and a three year suspension for two Officers for ascertained responsibilities. So, if I am not mistaken we have been in presence of a crisis with a huge [?] attack by the media and the public opinion and also a strong request to do something and soon to "clean" Figure Skating from any unacceptable, unfair situations.

I get really confused in reading the AP release where it seems that Figure Skating should remain as it has been for many years and it is not necessary to elaborate any improvement. Maybe there are other people with a negative opinion on the ISU action, but at the end of the day we are faced with two alternatives:

  1. The traditional judging system and judging in general was and is ok and shall therefore be maintained. In this case, it is difficult to understand the increasing volume of very strong criticism with the request to exclude Figure Skating from the Olympic Games.

  2. It is necessary to improve drastically the situation (as strongly recommended) and those who have something to say are allowed to voice their opinions and to submit proposals to the Congress, as it is the case since the ISU's foundation.

The first part of my letter is simply raising what are obvious facts and I apologize, but it was not me who has raised certain remarks. However, let us be practical and try to further improve our action.

We are informed that the ad-hoc Commission and all those [?] dedicated to the new judging system are working well and are convinced that we are certainly going in the right direction. The project will be completed soon and it is therefore advisable that we intensify its presentation by inviting more people to the demonstrations in particular coaches and skaters.

In fact, in these months we have given a lot of information on the new judging system and its structure and it was normal to think that the skaters were duly informed on the on-goings through their federations and other sources. However, the opinion of the Champions expressed in the mentioned AP release is the evidence that more information is to be given.

I therefore ask those concerned to prepare at best the presentation at Skate America and the test and presentation at Skate Canada and also to persist [?] by giving information to everybody during the season.

The ISU has taken the commitment with the public and the IOC to resolve the problems that too often have jeopardized the reputation of our Union and it is certainly not the unawareness of the system (that we will try to avoid) or even the absurd action of those who are against it that the ISU could review its policy.

We are available to consider remarks and criticism having the purpose to obtain a better result, but opposition without explanation is something that is not needed to resolve problems and to prepare a better future for Figure Skating. Those who want to help, even with input or ideas that are not in line with our system, are welcome and we are open for discussion and evaluation, but the spirit shall be strictly linked to the sense of cooperation for positive results.

I thank you for your attention and your support in this critical moment for the development and future of Figure Skating.

Best personal regards,

[signed]

Ottavio Cinquanta
President

Comment

It seems somewhat odd for Mr. Cinquanta to invite "input and ideas" for resolving the ISU's public relations crisis after first making it clear that "it is not possible to accept such criticism".

However, if Mr. Cinquanta is truly interested in "input and ideas", perhaps he should consider a third possibility beyond the two he lists: that the "increasing volume of very strong criticism" directed at the ISU is not due to problems with the scoring system for figure skating, but to problems with the ethics and accountability of judges and other officials, and the ISU's unwillingness to take strong action against officials who violate the existing rules of conduct.

Mr. Cinquanta speaks proudly of the three-year suspension of two people who were accused of judging corruption in the pairs event in Salt Lake City, but it is an embarassment to the sport that these people were not banned for life instead. It's also an embarassment that the two judges caught on tape cheating at the 1999 World Championships, Sviatoslav Babenko and Alfred Korytek, also received mere three-year suspensions for their actions -- and then were back judging again anyway after a single season! The fact that cheating judges are welcomed back into the sport without facing any serious permanent consequences is indicative of a culture of tolerance of cheating within the ISU, and this is what must change if the ISU is to regain public trust and respect. The penalties against cheating must be made so strong and so uniformly and conscientiously enforced that no judge would dare to risk their career in such a way. And, both the system of judging and the evaluation of judges' performance must be open to inspection by the public and the media, so that everyone can verify that the sport is being run according to the rules and not according to back-room deals.

Mr. Cinquanta says that neither of the two new scoring systems being promoted by the ISU have the aim of hiding the work of the judges. Yet, that is their undoubted effect, and it is exactly the opposite of what the ISU must do to solve the crisis of public opinion they currently face. I believe this is also the point that Alexei Yagudin was attempting to make in his remarks that caused Mr. Cinquanta such befuddlement, and so prompted him to write this memo.

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