Cost Savings at ISU Events

By Sonia Bianchetti

ISU Communications numbers 1561, 1562 and 1563, containing the decisions of the Council taken during their winter meeting held in Los Angeles on the occasion of the 2009 World Championships, have been published a few days ago.  

I am shocked and appalled by the irresponsible actions taken by the ISU Council under the pretext of cost cutting measures, in view of the difficult economic situation which, while not meeting the purpose will only  bring long term damage to the sport.

Communication 1562 announces the reduction of the number of skaters who qualify for the final free, as follows:

a) World Senior and Junior Championships: first 24 Men and Ladies, 16 pairs and 20 dance couples;
b) European Championships : first 20 Men and Ladies,16 pairs and 16 dance couples;
c) Four Continents: first 20 Men and Ladies, 12 pairs and 12 dance couples.

Besides, the host Member will not have any longer the right to enter their representatives in case they did not otherwise qualify them. I wonder what will the reaction of the Members be when they realize all this.

When Cinquanta announced in Los Angeles that he planned to reduce the number of  competitors at the Worlds by establishing tough new qualifying standards because "If the standard of skating is so poor, the ISU should change. This is a championship, not a festival," I applauded to his decision.

But it seems to me, that with the decision in Communication 1562, the ISU is going in the opposite direction.  Instead of cutting the number of skaters among the weakest ones, they have cut four or more skaters among those who, in principle, are at least of an acceptable standard.

The alleged money saving is really absurd, while the damage to the skaters and the Members is enormous. The national federations will be burdened with nearly impossible travel arrangements, particularly for the athletes who do not qualify for the free skating and the free dance and are supposed to leave immediately after the event. Has anybody considered the problem of who will accompany these young skaters, perhaps only 16 or 17 years old, who have to leave by breakfast the morning after the short program or the original dance? Are they supposed to travel alone, as by flying overseas with connecting flights, example ? Who will be responsible for them?

Not to mention that all these excessively severe restrictions will totally spoil the atmosphere of the championships  for the skaters as well as for the officials. 

The ISU has "no money", true. There is an economical crisis, true.

But perhaps there was a better and more logical way to cut the costs, while waiting for a qualifying system.

Since the ISU Council has often taken unpopular decisions without consulting the Members, to me a better way would have been, for instance, to decide that the board and lodging expenses for the skaters would only be paid for the competitors who placed, let's say, among the first 30 or so..  I am  pretty sure that  in this case the national federations, who are perfectly aware of the skating standard of their representatives, and therefore are sure that they will not meet the minimum standards, would not enter their skaters; and if they did enter them, the cost would not be carried by the ISU. The number of entries would surely be reduced, as well as the costs for the ISU and the Members; and the general standard of the events improved

But even more shocking for me is the decision that, in the final, the first group to skate (starting numbers from 1 - 5 or 1 - 6 depending on the Championship) , in all disciplines and all championships,  will skate in a separate session in the afternoon, while the other groups will skate in the evening!!!  I have no words  to express this horror. I just feel embarrassed thinking of a group of five or six poor young boys or girls skating alone in the afternoon, in front of an empty arena. It is just outrageous to me.

How is it possible that any responsible leaders of the international governing body for figure skating could conceivably decide to divide a competition, relegating half of the free skating and free dance competition to a separate and earlier performance time, under different conditions, with no audience at all?  And what about the officiating?  Can anyone call this a fair competition?

Cinquanta claims that "Judging is absolute", but this is just ridiculous. You can bet that the skaters from the separate and earlier sessions will have little, or no chance at all to move up under this disastrous scenario. One positive aspect of IJS is that skaters have moved up seven or more places in the Free Skate after a poor Short Program. Thus, skaters in the earlier session had, up until this change, the possibility to move up. This is likely to be lost if the competition is held in two separate pieces.

The ISU Council also decided to reduce the number of judges in the panels for the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver officially to bring them in line with the provisions applicable for the ISU Championships. The panel of judges for each discipline will consist of 9 judges per segment ( ISU Communication 1563).

Under the current system , after the random draw of two judges and the deletion of the highest and lowest marks, only 5 judges will actually decide the outcome of competitions. With five judges instead of seven the importance of each mark is increased by 40%. Each judge's mistake has more influence on the final result and also increases the opportunity for improper influence through the use of PCS scores.

The number of judges for the ISU Championships was cut in October 2008 to save money.  But for the Olympic Games the problem of costs does not exist. The judges are at the expense of the International Olympic Committee. Question: does the decision to cut the number of judges in such an important event just to conform with another questionable decision make sense?

The Olympic Games have always been, and are, governed by different rules than the ISU Championships. The qualification of the skaters is different, the draws of the panels of judges are different, so what if the number of judges is different but gives better guarantees of fair judging and results?

What is sure is that the reputation and the integrity of the sport will suffer.

Never before have such important decisions been taken outside the Congress, without even consulting the Members.

How can all this occur? At the top of each of these Communications it is written : "The Council, after consultation with the ISU Legal advisors, decided, based on the powers granted to the Council in the Constitution Article 17 paragraph q) (i) ".

Article 17 of the Constitution, " Functions and Powers of the Council" includes paragraph q) (i) which reads: "In case that exceptional circumstances so require and warrant, modification of any rule in the General Regulations, Special Regulations and in all Technical Rules;". The Council, therefore, has the power to adopt any changes to the Regulations if "exceptional circumstances so require". Frankly speaking it seems to me that the conditions under which the Council has acted hardly qualify as exceptional circumstances.

But how could it happen that the Members handed over to the Council all their rights and powers?

This rule was proposed by the ISU Council to the Congress in 2006. The President, Ottavio Cinquanta, reassured the Members that it would be applied only in case of extreme urgency. The Members accordingly approved. The Congress was fooled. And it was not the first time that this has happened. I am sure that the Members this time will react appropriately.

There is a saying:   "You can fool some of the people all of the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time; but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

At the next Congress in 2010 the Members have two options: either to propose to cancel all future Congresses, because they will be totally useless or to cancel this infamous rule.

I am confident that the second option will prevail.

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