After Ottavio, Who's Next?

by George Rossano

(4 June 2012)  Even though he has at least two years left to his term, and perhaps as many as four if the ISU members defy logic and extend the terms of the current office holders two years, the current ISU president is now a lame duck, and already hopefuls are testing the waters to see if their situation is favorable to seek the ISU presidency next.

No one has yet issued a press release saying they are running for office, and candidates need not officially state their intention to run until six weeks prior to a Congress with elections, but even at this point there is some idea who is interested in succeeding president Cinquanta; and there are several other names bandied about in the rumor mill for persons who might be considering seeking the office.

As the 2012 Congress approaches, where surely some back room politicking will take place as hopefuls jockey for position, we offer our own completely speculative, highly subjective, rumor-laced overview of some potential candidates.  We focus here, however, only on the figure skating side of the ISU.  We have heard that there is at least one and perhaps two persons from speed skating interested in the ISU presidency, but we are not familiar enough with the speed skating members to offer any comments on their chances to be elected.

Based on his resume and his experience as current ISU vice-president for Figure Skating, David Dore is the most logical choice to succeed president Cinquanta, among potential candidates from the figure skating side of the ISU house.  Dore was a figure skater, competing at the national level in Canada.  One of his sons also competed in Canada.  He was an ISU judge, serving at seven World Championships and the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.  From 1972 to 1980 he was a director of the Canadian Figure Skating Association.  From 1980 t0 1984 he was CFSA president.

Following his term as CFSA president, Dore was made Director General of CFSA and held that position through 2002.  During his time at CFSA (now Skate Canada) Dore was responsible for the management and marketing of skating events in Canada and showed himself to be an able promoter of events.  In 2002 he was elected a vice president of the ISU, a position he continues to hold.

Dore's experience as a skater, parent of a skater, official, administrator at the national and international level, and successful marketer of skating makes him the most qualified of potential candidates for the the ISU presidency.

But a Dore candidacy would not be without obstacles.  Dore will be 72 years old this year.  He is age eligible to run for office only in 2014, and would not be able to run in 2016 if elections are delayed.  Some have told us that they believe one goal for delaying the elections is to prevent Dore from running for the presidency, thinning the field for another candidate.

Dore also had serious health issues in 2010, but our observation, as recently as this season, is that he remains a vital, vibrant enthusiast and ambassador for his sport.  Talking to Dore, it is clear he retains a youthful joy for skating that one does not find in the current ISU president -- who to us always appears bored at figure skating events, and seems more interested in politics and financial matters rather than the sport of figure skating.

The conventional wisdom currently has it that Didier Gailhaguet has the inside track to succeed president Cinquanta.

Gailhaguet competed for France at five World and European Championships.  He medalled at five French National Championships and was National Champion in 1974 and 1975.  He also competed for France at the 1972 Winter Olympic Games.  Gailhaguet was Surya Bonaly's coach for a time and has served twice as president of the French Ice Sport Federation.  He will be 59 this year.

Gailhaguet's resume is second only to Dore in pursuing the ISU presidency, but also suffers from a major impediment -- his association with the 2002 judging scandal at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Gailhaguet, who was French federation president at the time and a member of the ISU Council, was banned from ISU events for three years.  He lost his Council position and in 2004 resigned his federation presidency, but was re-elected French federation president at the end of 2007, an office he currently holds.  To many skating fans, particularly in North America, Gailhaguet is a great Satan responsible for the scandal and it's devastating impact on skating.  Other fans in Europe do not feel as strongly, and some European fans go so far as to consider Gailhaguet a victim of an unfair North American vendetta.

In any event, since serving his suspension, Gailhaguet has rehabilitated himself within the French federation and most of the ISU, but not as much among skating fans.  We have seen comments from skating fans, and bloggers, that take the position that the election of Gailhaguet would be so devastating to the reputation of the ISU and therefore so damaging to skating, that the ISU would be better off keeping president Cinquanta (for whom they have no love) for an additional two years, even if that only delays a Gailhaguet presidency temporarily.

One advantage Gailhaguet has among other potential candidates is that the French federation administers all sports on ice in France.  As such he has visibility within the speed skating community.  No one among the figure skating candidates will be elected to the ISU presidency without the support of at least some of the speed skaters and in this respect Gailhaguet has a leg up on the others.

Christopher Buchanan's name has been mentioned on internet blogs as another ISU office holder considering seeking the ISU presidency.  Buchanan is an ISU judge, referee and technical controller in Ice Dance and Synchronized Skating.  In 2010 he was elected chairman of the ISU Synchronized Skating Technical Committee, his first position as an office holder within the ISU.  As such, he has a shorter track record as an administrator in the ISU than other potential candidates, and it is not clear how much visibility he has in the speed skating side of the ISU.  Buchanan's professional experience is in international banking, which has taken to him from his home country of the United Kingdom to North America and Asia, providing him with a good business and international perspective that an ISU president needs.

For its entire 120 year history, the ISU presidency has been held by white, European men.  If anyone has even an outside chance of upsetting that record it would seem to be limited at this time (in our observation) to the presidents of either U.S. Figure Skating, or Skate Canada.

I have no idea if U.S. Figure Skating president Patricia St. Peters aspires to the ISU presidency, but in our opinion, if anyone should seek to break the glass ceiling it is St. Peters, who is now in her fourth term as Association president.  Unfortunately, any U.S. Figure Skating president has only a limited opportunity to gain visibility within the ISU if they are not involved there in some other role.  Because of the four year term limit at U.S. Figure Skating, the Association president can lead the U.S. delegation at only two ISU Congresses.

The 2010 Congress was St. Peters' first, and our friends in Europe tell us she impressed many of the ISU member federations at that time, and this year we hear that many member federations will again be looking to her for leadership at the 2012 Congress in protecting the interests of federations within the ISU.  St. Peters is by profession a lawyer and has worked extensively within U.S. Figure Skating and the ISU on issues and rules concerning ethics, an area of expertise the ISU would benefit from exploiting.

Like some other potential figure skating candidates, St. Peters has the impediment of limited visibility within the speed skating world, with figure skating and speed skating governed by different organizations within the U.S.

Purely rumor, we admit, but we have also heard that Skate Canada president Benoit Lavoie does aspire to the ISU presidency.  Lavoie is an ISU judge, referee, and technical controller who has served at World Championships and the Winter Olympic Games.  As president of Skate Canada, elected in 2011 with a four year term limit, he shares the same limitation as St. Peters in that he can only lead the Canadian delegation at two ISU Congresses and his federation does not govern speed skating.  The 2012 Congress will be his first as a federation president.  Candidates from federations that elect the same president year after year until the body is cold do not share this impediment.  As a judge, etc., however, he is well known among ISU officials. 

David Kirby has followed a different path to influence within the ISU.  His parents were Canadian champions and his father show skated with Sonia Henie. Kirby is a former competitive skater in the U.S. and skated as a professional in Ice Capades. He is a rink owner and coach and has served as PSA President.  He has been intimately involved in the development of IJS on the technical panel side since the inception of IJS, and is currently a member of the Singles and Pairs Technical Committee.  Kirby currently seems to be devoting most of his time to the ISU.  When he is not globe trotting the world giving seminars we see him at just about every major ISU event in some capacity.  His status as a coach raises some issues, but one should remember that Gailhaget was at one time a coach.

By our observation only, Kirby acts like a man who is semi-retired and looking for a new challenge.  As a former skater, someone with management experience in a international skating organization and wide experience with the business of skating at the grass roots level he potentially offers a new and different perspective that would benefit the ISU as it seeks to restore interest and participation in skating.

In addition to the presidency, the next ISU election will include an opening for figure skating on the Council (with Phyllis Howard age ineligible for re-election), and if David Dore runs for president, the potential for a new vice president for figure skating.  Thus, we could find some of the persons on our list taking on new roles within the ISU with the next election, if not necessarily the presidency.  For example, St. Peters would be a logical choice to replace Howard, if the presidency is beyond her reach at this time.

But we close were we started saying all this is mostly speculation on our part.  There are several capable individuals out there in the figure skating community who have the experience and expertise to lead the ISU after Ottavio.  Each brings their own experience and strengths, and baggage, to the table.  Other names may crop up in the next two years.  We can only wistfully hope that when the next president and senior office holders are elected, it is based on merit and vision for the ISU and not politics as usual.

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Copyright 2012 by George S. Rossano