PERSONAL COMMENTS ON ISU COMMUNICATION 1257 AND

ISU PRESS RELEASE DATED APRIL 16, 2004

by

Sonia Bianchetti



According to the Procedural Provisions of the ISU Constitution, for every amendment proposed by Members to the Constitution and the General Regulations, there should be a recommendation of the ISU Council, giving also the reasons for it. On the Agenda of the 2004 ISU Congress which will be held next June in Holland, there are 84 proposals to amend the Constitution, of which about 40 are only drafting matters. The majority of these proposals are submitted by the Council and obviously are not commented upon by it. Of the proposals by Members, the majority were submitted by USFSA. These proposals, in my opinion, are excellent proposals reflecting the democratic concept of the USFSA on how a sports federation organization must be administered, while recognising and protecting the rights of all its Members. The USFSA proposals define and defend 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. Some proposals are 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.


In Communication No. 1257, issued on April 15, 2004, the Council has made public their recommendations on the proposals submitted by Members to amend the Constitution. The USFSA had submitted 23 proposals: on 16 (70%) the Council’s comment is “ not in favour”, on 4 it is “in principle in favour” but refers to a Council proposal with different terms, and in 2 the Council “does not take a firm stand”. Canada had similar proposals, 3 out of 4 have been knocked down and 1 is in principle OK but with reservations.


This does not come as a surprise to me, especially in view of the fact that by contrast most of the proposals submitted by the Council are intended to reduce or even eliminate the rights of the Members. They would concentrate all the decision-making power 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!


Fortunately, for the time being at least, the Council cannot unilaterally impose its will on the Members, but only make a recommendation. This means that the Members during the Congress can still ignore the recommendations of the Council and adopt the USFSA and the Canadian proposals, which would be in the best interests of the sport, while defeating those of the Council.


A press release dated April 16 was issued in the name of the ISU which stresses that the final version of the Agenda of the Congress has been substantially modified, especially with respect to the new Judging System and gives some detailed information.


Clarification on the New Judging system


The press release states that the ISU has welcomed the important and valuable input from the Member Federations and the skating community in general and that a significant number of changes have been incorporated in the proposed “New Judging System” since the provisional agenda. Taking such input is surely a good way to proceed and is to be appreciated.

As a matter of fact another jump combination has been added, to try to solve the “Plushenko case”, and the point values of the elements have been substantially changed. Still they have not been able to arrive at a set of points that really works for the full range of performances seen in competitions. The mix of points for jumps, spins, sequences, presentation, etc., varies significantly from one event to another and it requires major modifications of the system if it is to work properly at all competition levels. How could the present New Judging System, for instance, work for very large events, junior events or events in which the skaters are doing only a few single or double jumps or just a couple of triples? This is still a big, BIG question.


As clearly admitted by the press release, the system is still under constant revision and evolution, and the developers of the system are still making it up as they go along which brings to my mind that between the changes to the points and other major changes to the fundamental structure of the system adopted after the Forum in Dortmund, we have again a substantially revised system that must be considered untested in the form in which it would be used next season. Yet the next season the Council wants to experiment it upon the skaters in ISU Championships. This is definitely not fair.


The press release also states that the ISU Council will closely monitor the implementation of the new Judging System in the 2004/2005 season and will adopt at any time changes, in particular in the scale of values, which the Council will deem necessary for its continued implementation. At the end of the season 2005 the Council at its sole discretion will decide on the necessary additions, deletions and/or modifications in the New Judging System. If any of these additions or deletions are in fact implemented, the system used in 2006 will again be untested and the Olympic Games in Turin will be the first opportunity to see if the revised method works or does not work. No doubt that the idea is original to say the least!


Independent Judging Accountability


The ISU Council has frequently claimed that external pressure on Officials cannot be excluded and therefore, in an effort to protect the judges, the names of the judges at ISU Championships and the Grand Prix Senior events as well as the Olympic Winter Games will not be linked to the scores. In other words they will remain secret. To all those Members who are strongly against secret judging for very good and legitimate reasons and which represent to-day a large majority, the ISU Council offers that in the season 2004/2005 for the Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating events and certain international competitions, scores from all the judges would be used to form the result (no random draw) and names of the judges would be listed next to the scores in the protocol.


This sounds to me as a joke. The “interim system” adopted after the judging scandal in Salt Lake City proved to be the worst idea that has ever been conceived and it is killing the popularity of our sport. The skaters, the coaches, the fans, the public and the media at large are all against the random elimination of the judges from the panels and the anonymity of the judges’ marks. Judges must be held accountable not just by the ISU Council and/or Technical Committees but also to the athletes for their results.


And what is the ISU Council offering? Secret judging at all major international events, including of course the Olympic Games, but open judging on a trial basis for Junior international competitions where the interest of the public and the media is practically non-existent. Is this a sugar-plum to help the Members swallow the bitter pill?


Enhanced Assessment


The ISU says that at the ISU Championships and the Grand Prix events (Senior), as well as the Olympic Winter Games, an appointed Officials’ Assessment Commission would meet on the site directly after the competition to ensure that Officials are held accountable as quickly as possible. Findings of the Commission would be forwarded directly to the Technical Committees and the Council to impose sanctions in case of serious or repeated mistakes or bias. In the opinion of the ISU Council this would be an enormous improvement over the traditional assessment process when decisions were based solely on Referee reports and were made only after the season without the possibility of double checking.


The press release claims the fact that these Commission procedures will represent an enormous improvement over the past situation where the assessment of the judges and the eventual sanctions imposed were decided only at the end of the season. Since the findings of these Commissions will anyhow have to be forwarded to the Technical Committees and the Council, and since these ISU governing bodies do not hold meetings after each event, but collectively only twice a year, the assessment of the judges will only be carried out as usual during these official meetings at the end of the season, or maximum twice in a season. Where is the difference?


Besides, the Grand Prix events are seven and they are scheduled between the 20th of October and the 20th of December, more or less one every week, scattered all over the World. The ISU Championships are four, between January and March, which gives a total of eleven competitions with four categories each. It is not conceivable that only one Assessment Commission can take care of all of them. At least two or three of these commissions will be necessary to do this work.


The consequence of this will be that the assessment of the judges will not be based on the same criteria and therefore the information received by the Technical Committees will vary, depending upon the personal opinions of these new officials “ appointed” by the Council. I do not see in what way the new system would represent an “enormous improvement” on the traditional assessment process when the decisions were based on the Referee’s reports. On the contrary! With the new system, there will not be the possibility for a judge who appears to be “out of line” to be considered as being the only one correct, for instance, or that the minority of the panel had the correct result, as was the case is Salt Lake City.


The only sure result of this new idea is a considerable increase of the expenses for the organisers or the ISU to fly the Commission Officials from one place to another and pay their board and lodging expenses.