Skate Canada's Position on the WSF

Editor's note

The following document was e-mailed to me. It is apparently the text of the letter Skate Canada has sent to its members regarding its policy towards the World Skating Federation. I am told the original document is posted on the "Members Only" section of the Skate Canada web site. It seems strange to me that Skate Canada has not made this document about their organizational policy available to the public, but since it seems to be of general interest I am posting the copy I received here.

I have added very minimal HTML markup, otherwise the text is as I received it.

Text of the letter

To: Skate Canada Members

From: Skate Canada Executive Committee

Date: April 22, 2003

Subject: Skate Canada's Position on the World Skating Federation (WSF)

Summary - Skate Canada's Position on WSF

On March 25, 2003, Mr. Ronald Pfenning announced at a press conference in Washington D.C. the formation of a new international figure skating organization, named the World Skating Federation (WSF). Mr. Pfenning presented an overview of this new organization, its fundamental principles, and its position as a competing interest to the International Skating Union (ISU).

The WSF includes as its founding members a group of former ISU office holders, sports promoters, coaches and former active ISU eligible athletes, the majority of whom reside in the United States.

The ISU is the exclusive international governing body for the purpose of providing technical control and direction of the sport of figure skating and speed skating at the Olympic Games and other skating events and activities. The objects of the ISU are the "regulation, control and promotion" of these sports "and their organized development". Additionally, the ISU has the responsibility to ensure that the interests of all Members are observed and respected.

Members of the ISU are national organizations recognized by the ISU as controlling in a country either or both of the branches of skating. Skate Canada is the national organization in Canada for the sport of figure skating.

Clearly the WSF intends to remove the ISU from being the international governing body for figure skating as the WSF announced its intention of becoming the "international sport organization with the purpose of governing and promoting figure skating throughout the world". Article 4 of the WSF Constitution states "the WSF will seek (and, when obtained, retain) designation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the international sport federation authorized by the IOC to conduct and manage such competitions at the Olympic Winter Games."

Furthermore, the WSF states in Article 8 of its Constitution that "Members have the obligation in all national and international matters to support the objectives and activities of the WSF. Members shall not participate in any activities, national or international, against the integrity, the exclusive role, or other interest of the WSF".

Given the stated position of the WSF and its desire to unseat the ISU as the exclusive governing body for international figure skating, Skate Canada needs to clearly state its opinion of the merits of the WSF's run at the ISU and the impact it would have on any current and future members of Skate Canada.

Skate Canada has reviewed the information available in the public domain on the WSF and has concluded that:

Given the intention of the WSF to replace the ISU as the "exclusive" international governing body of figure skating, Skate Canada considers the steps taken by the ISU to address this situation as appropriate and necessary for the future development and growth of the sport of figure skating.

Specifically, the ISU has informed its members that "any person, whether a Member (national federation) or an individual taking part in the ISU activities, who would join the WSF, or support or endorse its activities, would be automatically in serious breach of the ISU Constitution and Regulations. Article 7, para 1b of the ISU Constitution imposes on the Members the obligation "to support the objects, activities and unity of the ISU" and the obligation "not to participate in any activities, national or international, against the integrity, the exclusive role and interests of the ISU". Rule 102 regulating eligibility, requires that a person taking part in the activities and competitions under the jurisdiction of the ISU must "respect the principles and policies of the ISU as expressed in the ISU Constitution and fulfill those obligations on the basis of which the ISU functions and governs all its activities."

Given that the WSF intends to replace the ISU, the ISU has indicated to its Members that "one cannot simultaneously be a Member or eligible participant in the activities of the ISU, and a member or supporter of the new group calling themselves "WSF". In doing so the Member "would lose the right to participate in the activities of the ISU, including the right to enter skaters in international competitions, ISU Championships and the Olympic Winter Games".

The Skate Canada Board of Directors on April 11, 2003 reviewed the materials in the public domain on the WSF, reviewed the ISU Constitution, reviewed the merits of being a member of the ISU and unanimously approved the following resolution:

1) THAT Skate Canada, as a member of the ISU, supports the objects, activities and unity of the ISU;

2) THAT Skate Canada, as a responsible member of the ISU, will continue to work within the structure of the ISU to achieve our goals of fair play, ethical decision making and athlete centeredness, with input from all members and stakeholders in Canadian figure skating;

3) THAT Skate Canada does not support the World Skating Federation in any way whatsoever; and

4) THAT any member of Skate Canada who, on or after May 1, 2003, is a member of the World Skating Federation or supports or endorses its activity, thereby seriously breaching the Constitution and Regulations of the ISU, shall be deemed to be a person not in good standing with Skate Canada, and in compliance with its obligations to the ISU, Skate Canada will not permit such persons (skaters, coaches, officials, volunteers) to participate in any competitions, programs or activities of Skate Canada.

Finally, Skate Canada recognizes that there is much improvement needed within the ISU and in the sport of figure skating. Breaking up the ISU will not serve to address these needed improvements, but will serve to destroy the delicate balance that currently exists with the competing interests of figure skating for profit, current figure skaters aspiring to be World and Olympic Champions, and the future development of figure skating.

What follows is a summary of Skate Canada's guiding principles for the analysis of the merits of the WSF and Skate Canada's observations and comments on some of the stated claims of the WSF.

Skate Canada's Guiding Principles for the Analysis of WSF:

1) Skate Canada remains committed to the following principles:

a) Figure Skating is first, and foremost, a sport. Sport is defined as the pursuit of human athletic perfection and does not exist for purposes of entertainment (although entertainment may be the end result for spectators of a sporting contest or exhibition).

b) Sport must be quantifiable. This means that there must be a definitive way to objectively measure the aspects of performance of one athlete or team against another athlete or team in the sport in order to determine a winner.

c) The rules of sport must be based on and clearly demonstrate the principles of fair play.

d) The interests of athletes must drive the decision-making process. Sport exists as a vehicle for athletes to compare their skills on equal footing against those of other similarly skilled athletes.

These principles were outlined in Skate Canada's position on the ISU New Judging System Reform Proposal. Completed in May 2002, Skate Canada's position was widely distributed to Skate Canada members, the ISU and the Media and is available upon request.

2) Skate Canada believes that any organization must make an explicit commitment to ethics. We also believe that this explicit commitment to ethics must be accompanied by a rigorous system that encourages ethical behavior and decision making.

Skate Canada believes that proactive measures must be taken to ensure the integrity of the results of any sporting competition. These proactive measures include ensuring that the risk for misconduct in the judging of figure skating outweighs any reward for misconduct and incompetence in all levels of decisions taken during a competition.

3) Skate Canada believes that all stakeholders, and athletes in particular, must play an integral role in determining the direction of the sport of figure skating. Decision making must be an inclusive integrated process and not one where special interest groups formulate decisions in isolation. The input of athletes, coaches, officials and administrators must be balanced in any decision making process which concerns the sport.

4) An international sport federation's regulations must guarantee and honor in all situations and conditions the vital principle that participation in competitive sport is granted on an equal basis and does not advantage or disadvantage any athlete because of his/her home country's position regarding the role of sport. Eligibility rules, which are discussed later, also have this prime purpose; to assure equal conditions for all skaters, whether stars or aspiring stars.

Stated Claims of the WSF:

Skate Canada considers it necessary to provide comment and observation on the claims of the WSF because of the aggressive nature it has taken not only against the ISU, but also with Skate Canada. Skate Canada has reason to be concerned regarding the actions and tactics of the WSF as evidenced by a quote in the media attributed to a WSF founding member that "we will take our message to the athletes of Canada; and we have". This is very concerning to Skate Canada as our athletes may not yet be aware of the significance or potential risk of associating with an organization that attempts to assume the "exclusive" role as governing body for international figure skating held by the ISU. Understandably, representatives of athletes are asking for Skate Canada's position on the WSF so that they can properly advise them.

It is the right and responsibility of every individual to decide which activities, groups, and actions to support and we hope that before doing so that every individual will make every effort to be fully informed on the issues and understand the consequences of their actions.

Below is a review of the claims of the WSF and Skate Canada's observations and comments:

WSF intends to return the sport of figure skating to the majority ordinal judging system

Skate Canada believes the judging system for figure skating must conform to the guiding principles as stated above.

Ordinals provide no specific quantifiable measure of performance quality. The judges are being asked to rank the skaters in order. They cannot always reflect the exact performance quality (accurate measurement vs. subjective analysis) because they need to put the skater in the correct place. It is difficult to establish hard and fast rules about what is better because ultimately, it is too much to ask of the judge to do all of these comparisons and correctly rank the skaters while marking a competition. For example, we know that a triple toe loop is easier than a triple Axel, but how much easier? This has not been quantified in our rules. Further, our rules say things like a well executed double jump may be worth more than a poorly executed triple jump. All of this creates confusion, leads to inconsistent judging and increases subjectivity.

From the skaters' perspective, the marking of the competition currently does not give very accurate information about how they compared in performance to other skaters, only about how they ranked within the group.

Currently, judging is quite subjective in that the system (as expressed above) provides for a differing balance of priorities among judges. This ability for judges to rate different skill quality differently often appears in the very mixed ordinals for skaters in the middle groups of a large competition. Typically, these skaters provide judges the biggest challenge in that they demonstrate different and opposite strengths and weaknesses. The ability of individual judges to be slightly different in how they perceive these strengths and weaknesses can have a big impact on the end result. This creates a mathematical reliability issue for our current judging system.

The ordinal system, while an effective way to rank skaters, does not measure the precise distance between the performances of the athletes. A downside is that only the top 3 skaters in the Short program have a chance of winning the event mathematically without help (e.g. one of the top 3 skaters has to tumble out of the top 3). With the caliber of skating performances that exist, more than three skaters should form the top group in the short program. The current system does not allow very similar performances to be accurately compared. The difference between placing first and sixth in the short is huge, but the actual difference in skating performances might be very small. Ranking sometimes separates the performances more than the skating actually deserves.

The judges have a great deal of discretionary decision making authority. The judges can argue their points about the balance of priorities (bias) and in the current system there are many places where there is no absolute right or wrong answer. The judges' decisions are determining the direction of the sport (not athletes). From the skaters' perspective, the composition of the judging panel, their cultural backgrounds, their individual likes and dislikes, etc. have a great impact on the result of a competition. Skaters in the current system do not know what balance of priorities they will face at each competition, because this is very heavily dependent upon which judges are drawn to serve. When skaters are not in control of the outcome, they may assume that some criterion is important when in fact it may not be. The current judging system can do nothing to correct this misconception.

It is apparent, therefore, that the current ordinal ranking system, while thought to be reliable in scientific testing, has some weaknesses in the figure skating context that can be summarized as follows:

.. Judging is subjective. Subjectivity leads to the potential for manipulation, with very little quantitative evidence upon which to base disciplinary action. A majority of judges on a panel automatically affect the final results.

.. Judges have discretion (or bias) in making decisions such that it is difficult for a decision by any judge to be challenged (protects the incompetent or corrupt judge).

.. Ranking does not allow for aspects of the sport to be properly quantified or for these measurements to be reflected in the marking. The process of ranking limits the absolute accuracy with which the judge can assess a performance.

.. Judges, not athletes are moving the sport ahead.

.. Ranking does not provide skaters with specific feedback about their performances.

.. A skater who draws to skate early in a competition can never receive perfect marks even if deserved.

The WSF has stated its intention to maintain the 6.0 ranking system - and with it all of its flaws. It is the assessment of Skate Canada that maintaining this system hampers any steps necessary to clearly quantify the measurement that is applied to the sport of figure skating.

Based on the above observations, the principle of ranking by majority rule is an ineffective measure of sport excellence in figure skating, and for the reasons examined above does not strongly support our guiding principles. The application of majority rule is flawed regardless of the purity of the principles upon which it is built.

The WSF claims that under its control the Technical Committees will withhold judging assignments for unacceptable performance by judges; and that bias for or against any athlete will not be tolerated

Skate Canada believes that any organization must make an explicit commitment to ethics and, in the context of the sport of figure skating this commitment must be accompanied by a rigorous system that encourages ethical behavior and decision making.

In fact, the ISU has the following provision that allows for the application of bans for life. Rule 125(4) states that the "Council may exclude from participation. for a definite period or forever, any individual (whether skater, ISU Office Holder. Official, Referee or Judge, .) who can be proved to have acted against the spirit of the Constitution or the Regulations, or otherwise improperly."

The spirit of the Constitution and the Regulations clearly is one that expects unbiased behavior of the judges (see ISU rules 426, 590 and 821). The problem of harshly sanctioning cheating is, not one of amending the Constitution, but in the burden of proof that is required to apply the necessary punishment.

Skate Canada believes that the continued application of the 6.0-ranking judging system and the powers and responsibilities of the Technical Committee as outlined in the WSF Constitution prevent the objective of intolerance towards bias for and against any athlete from being fully realized.

The 6.0-ranking judging system does not allow for the rules of the sport to be defined in such a way as to clearly indicate the definition of a "winning" performance. Without such clear definition, any assessment of bias will always be a disagreement between two competing individuals - the judge and the person assessing the performance of the judge. So long as the judge has the opportunity to disguise most bias as a difference of opinion, the systemic bias seen in figure skating will not end. In addition, the WSF Constitution provides that the decision to sanction a judge based on performance cannot be challenged. In effect, this will do nothing to diminish the power of influence that a technical committee member or referee can have on the decisions of a competition.

WSF claims it will be more athlete centered than the ISU

Skate Canada has previously stated that the interests of athletes in the sport must be fully represented (see Skate Canada's Position on the ISU Judging System Reform Proposal - pages 3 and 10). Consistent with this position, at the 2000 ISU Congress, Skate Canada voted to include athletes as part of the Member delegation to the ISU Congress. This important proposal, presented by the ISU Council, unfortunately did not pass. Figure Skating federations that voted against this proposal included Australia with WSF founding member Mr. Donald McKnight as a delegate for that federation.

Skate Canada was alarmed at the timing of the announcement of a new international federation for figure skating during a World Championship. Surely individuals who were committed to being athlete centered would not wish to distract or detract from the performances of athletes in such an important competition. And, yet, the WSF did just that.

Also in Skate Canada's position on the ISU New Judging System Reform Proposal, Skate Canada published its intention to advocate within the ISU for inclusion of athletes and coaches on ISU technical committees. Then ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee Chair and now WSF founding member Ms. Sally Stapleford responded to Skate Canada on May 27, 2002 that ".to have figure coaches on Technical Committees is just too crazy for words they will not do any work unless they are paid for it, so forget it" and "I personally as you know have the same sentiments about the athlete commission its all very politically correct and as most politically correct stuff it doesn't work!!!". The WSF Constitution guarantees athlete votes to a maximum of 15% of the total number of Members eligible to vote at the Congress but restricts athletes' ability to vote in elections of candidates other than athlete representatives.

The WSF Constitution seems to exclude current international competitors from participation in the WSF governance structure. Only former athletes who have been removed for a minimum of one year from active competition will be eligible to represent the interests of present and future athletes. (There does not seem to be any mandatory exclusion of current coaches from serving on the Coaches Committee in the WSF.)

The contemplated composition of the Technical Committees in the WSF is seven ISU Judges or Referees, one Athlete Representative and one Coach.

Skate Canada acknowledges that the ISU has a great deal of work to do in this area. Skate Canada has the goal that there will be an athlete on each and every country's delegation at every ISU Congress, in addition to participation on various ISU Committees. This would provide for much greater input by athletes directly in the process - here they would have full representation at the governing table, and not relegated to the status of a special interest group.

Skate Canada believes that working cooperatively through the ISU, which has already indicated a strong desire to achieve these goals despite the early failed attempt to include athletes in the delegation, is the best and fastest way to accomplish these changes.

WSF intends to remove the eligibility rules that exist within the ISU

The purpose of the ISU eligibility rules is to ensure that there are adequate economic resources for the administration and development of ISU sport disciplines and for support and benefit of the Members and their skaters.

The ISU has very few sources of revenue, mainly television and largely from American television. American television primarily derives its revenues for ISU events from sponsors paying to access the broad base of world wide television viewers. Television viewers are most interested in world wide competition of athletic excellence. If we erode this by not addressing the ineffective judging system there is no question that these revenues will dry up.

Almost all athletes in the sport are not millionaires. In fact it is primarily only the North American winners of ladies and men World and/or Olympic titles that can lay claim to that status. The vast majority of elite level athletes in the sport of figure skating cannot cover their expenses from monies earned from skating without direct contribution from the ISU, their national sport federation or government.

The ISU eligibility rules exist so that the precious few revenues can be disbursed as follows:

a) To the vast majority of current elite skaters (e.g. each singles skater at the World Championships receives prize money from $55,000 for 1st place to $2,000 for 24th place);

b) To member federations for hosting competitions (even a country like Canada who has the strongest fan and volunteer base would not be able to host events without the contribution of the ISU); and,

c) To put back into the sport for future development (ten years ago countries like Iceland and Portugal did not participate in the ISU and only 4 years ago the first World Synchronized Skating Championship was held).

It would be irresponsible to advocate for the removal of the current ISU eligibility rules, in the absence of any proven superior economic model that would balance the above mentioned needs and the needs of those who would profit from the sport.

The entire sport depends upon the revenue generated through broadcasting of high profile "eligible" events. With no mechanism to differentiate or to ensure the quality of "eligible" competitions, over time the sport would become watered down and the revenue available for reinvestment into the sport at the developmental level would be seriously impacted upon. Skate Canada understands that changing the delicate balance between eligible and non-eligible athletes would have devastating effects on the development of future skaters around the world and especially in Canada.

WSF claims that the ISU President has not honestly represented the matters of international figure skating

Members of the WSF believe that the ISU inappropriately revised the procedures for event review meetings and that the President inappropriately placed the new judging system in the ISU general regulations at the ISU congress (thus allowing both figure and speed delegates to vote on the item).

With respect to the revised event review procedure this was necessary given that the Congress approved the anonymity of the marks and ordinals of the individual judges for an interim period. The ISU Constitution provides for such revisions of subordinate procedures when Congress amends a regulation.

Skate Canada finds it interesting that the WSF intends "that matters of uniformity such as scoring systems and procedures relating to judge evaluation .will be included in the General Regulations instead of being duplicated in the technical rules for each discipline as in the case of the current ISU regulations." WSF further explains that this would be appropriate because the new federation would be only for figure skating and not for other forms of skating.

Members of the WSF have stated that they believe that members of the ISU did not understand what they were voting on when they voted to include the new judging system in general regulation 121. Skate Canada notes that the ISU circulated in advance of the Congress to all members its intention to place the new judging system in general regulation 121. There was very little objection on the floor of the ISU Congress about this. Contrast this to the situation during the figure skating session of the Congress when the Chair of this session, then ISU VP Mr. Katsu Hisanaga, suggested to the delegation after voting down UP 25, that they must not have understood what they were voting for and that the vote would be taken again. The delegation erupted in protest and the vote was not taken again. Skate Canada submits that the ISU Congress is a democratic process with the will being that of the majority vote.

With respect to the vote in the general session of the ISU Congress on the ISU New Judging System, it was accepted with 81 votes in favor and 16 votes against. Even if this vote had taken place only in the figure skating session of the congress it would have received a clear majority.

Skate Canada is not aware of any actions of the ISU President to support the WSF's claims that the ISU President has not honestly represented the matters of international figure skating and considers this a most inappropriate and unfair assertion.

WSF intends to separate figure from speed and is seeking direct recognition from the IOC as the exclusive regulating body of figure skating

Skate Canada does not believe that the governing body for figure skating must be exclusive of other sports. The International Skating Union is not the only international sport organization that governs several distinct sports. Aquatics, Cycling, Equestrian, Gymnastics, and Skiing are examples of other international sport bodies that govern more than one Olympic sport. Aquatics and Skiing are even similar to the ISU in that they govern both judged and non-judged sport. In addition, more than 70% of the members of the International Skating Union domestically govern both speed and figure skating by a single organization.

It is the opinion of Skate Canada that the ISU derives much clout with such bodies as the IOC for the very reason that it represents this large group of on-ice activity.

It has been reported in the media that the IOC President has expressed complete support for the ISU and its role as the world governing body for international ice skating activity.

The WSF claims that those organizing the WSF are not doing so for personal advancement

Skate Canada makes no comment on this claim. However, the record of the ISU congresses does indicate that those founding members who also either served as ISU office holders or presidents of ISU member federations share some common opinions about proposals presented to the ISU Congress. In some of these proposals their opinion represented the minority voice at the ISU Congress and they continued to work against the democratic will of the Members of the ISU. For complete transparency the record of the countries that voted opposite of the majority for the major proposals in question is as follows:

Urgent Proposal 4, ISU Council (New Judging System) 81 votes in favor and 16 votes against. The countries that voted against are: Armenia (speed/figure), Australia (speed/figure), Azerbaijan (speed/figure), France (speed/figure), Great Britain (speed/figure), Japan (speed/figure), New Zealand (speed/figure), Russia (speed), Sweden (figure).

Proposal 279, Japan (return to majority for place results calculation) 5 votes in favor, 43 votes against. The countries that voted in favor are: Chinese Taipei, Czech Republic, Japan, Mongolia, United States.

Urgent Proposal 25,26,28,45,47, United States (New Calculation System - Median total score) 15 votes in favor, 35 votes against. The countries that voted in favor are: Austria, China, Chinese Taipei, Denmark, Great Britain, China (HKG), Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Korea, Sweden, United States.

Urgent Proposal 29, Canada (interim panel selection and display of marks) 39 votes in favor, 8 votes against. The countries that voted against are: China, France, Great Britain, China (HKG), Luxembourg, Netherlands, South Africa, United States.


Skate Canada has identified that the judging system is a critical feature for the future of our sport. To deal with the problems of behavior of individuals without addressing the structural factors which contribute to the environment supporting this behavior can only serve as a short term solution - one which will eventually result in a repeat of the past. From the information available to Skate Canada on the WSF, it appears that the WSF has failed to recognize that the problems of the sport go beyond the actions of individuals.

Much has been said about the efficiency with which the ISU can address the failings of figure skating when it governs two different sports. Skate Canada believes that the issue of establishing a separate organization to exclusively govern figure skating is a "red herring". There are no grounds to the assertion that the governing body for figure skating must be exclusive of other sports. The ISU is not the only international sport organization that governs several distinct sports or governs both judged and non-judged sports.

That the ISU has failed in its attempts thus far to address the continual controversies in the sport is a reflection on the past leadership of the figure skating community - leadership that included current members of the WSF who held positions of power, with membership on the most powerful figure skating technical committees in the ISU. In fact, these persons represent uninterrupted power from 1967 until April of 2003 and represented a majority on the figure skating technical committee from 1994 until 2002.

In that period of time, there have been many proposals put on the floor of the ISU to deal with issues of geographical distribution, athlete representation, judging systems, etc. In each case their leadership on these issues is not a significant part of the record. While it is commendable that the WSF members have now decided to make their voices heard on these very important issues, Skate Canada cannot responsibly ignore the fact that when previously in positions of power they often chose not to act or were ineffective in their actions.

The figure skating community as a whole has made the democratic decision to learn its lessons from the past and to move on to the future. The elections of the 2002 Congress were clear reflections of a difference of opinion in the meaning of the words "moving on from the past."

Skate Canada recognizes that although there is improvement needed within the ISU and in the sport of figure skating in general, taking actions specified by the WSF will not serve to address these needed improvements. Skate Canada believes that the ISU is making a concerted effort to address the areas that Skate Canada has identified as needing structural revision.

The Skate Canada Board of Directors has concluded that the WSF has not demonstrated that it can achieve Skate Canada's stated goals in particular those of fair play and athlete centeredness. In fact, the WSF appears to be intent on maintaining many of the regulatory processes that Skate Canada believes contribute to the current failings of international skating.

Finally, as a result of this analysis, Skate Canada will not support the WSF in any fashion. Skate Canada, as a responsible member of the ISU, will continue its work within the structure of the ISU to achieve its goals of fair play, ethical decision making and athlete centeredness, with input from all members and stakeholders in Canadian figure skating.

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