Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

The International Skating Union and Japan Skating Federation are nearing the end of their ropes in attempting to hold 2011 Worlds in Japan sometime this year.  The ISU has said it will consider moving the world figure skating championships if Japanese organizers are unable to commit to hosting the event at a later date by Monday, March 21.

ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta recently told The Associated Press, "If they don't respond by early Monday morning we're going to move forward."

It is expected that if JSF cannot meet the conditions placed on them by the ISU by Monday, the ISU will then choose between canceling the event outright, or holding it in another country, perhaps this spring.  Several countries have offered to organize the Championships on short notice including the United States (Colorado Springs or Lake Placid), Canada (Vancouver), Finland (Helsinki), Germany, and Russia (Moscow).  Once JSF responds on Monday, a decision by the ISU is expected no later than Tuesday.

The conditions placed on JSF reportedly center on the availability of a suitable, safe venue, and a declaration that the situation in Japan is now safe, five months before any proposed date for holding the event in Japan.  A declaration of "safe" by April or May, would push the competition into September or October.

The reality, however, given current conditions in Japan, is that any conclusion on what is safe can only be a wild guess for many months to come.  A earthquake of the magnitude that occurred is capable of producing a magnitude 8.0 aftershock, with large aftershocks not uncommon for up to a year after the initial quake -- a massive earthquake in itself.  The situation at the Fukushima power plant appears to be stabilizing and may well be "under control" in a few weeks; but safe?  No, not by the standards of the general public.  The plant is likely to release small amounts of radiation for months, and there are now reports of small amounts of radioactive contamination in food and water.  This contamination is at a very low level, will likely remain so, and is currently not a real health hazard, but the general public has an inordinate fear of radiation, and that fear is not going to dissipate any time soon.  Yokohama is not much farther from the disaster area than Tokyo.  Nor is Sapporo, though it is on a different island.

It is understandable that JSF would want to have Worlds rescheduled in Japan this year, rather than wait until 2014 (the next unassigned Championships), but convincing their own public, no less the ISU that they will have a safe alternate location and time is a huge obstacle in their path.  Further, even the Japanese skating fans recognize that holding the Championships in October is not practical.  A Japanese fan posting on Golden Skate recently has offered some interesting insight into the thinking of Japanese fans.  In part they have written (abstracted here) speaking of the feeling of Japanese fans:

"Now fortunately, ISU has officially anounced that they will be postponing Worlds until October. JSF seems to have agreed with this with chairman Seiko Hashimoto stating she'd like Japan to be able to host it then. Most Japanese FS fans are totally against this decision, and also raged about how JSF and Hashimoto has reacted to it.  ...

"Not once single person has stated that they should have Worlds in Tokyo as scheduled this month, nor even next month, nor even in October. This has been the most strongest and widespread Japan has ever had, and we nor specialists are not sure of the outcomes or when exactly the country can be assured as safe, so how can JSF possibly think even for a moment that having Worlds 2011 in Japan can be possible at any time? ... 

"Worlds is an international competition which doesn't belong only to us, and I hope you'd understand that the majority of Japanese fans are very well aware of that. We do not wish to deprive other countries' fans and especially their skaters their rights to hold Worlds within the season in a country other than ours which wil enable them to focus on the competition without having have to be concerened about their safety. ...

"There has been no casualty reports on anyone in Japanese FS so far. There's no need for Worlds to be cancelled as any gesture of mourning, or just for the sake of Japan in any way. ...

"This terrible earthquake happened only in Japan, and even only in part of Japan. The world does not have to stop functioning just because of it. Almost everyone in Tokyo and the non-damaged areas here are going on with our usual lives, and they're even going to start baseball season soon (though there are still arguments whether this is right or wrong). ...

"There is no need to cancel nor postpone the competiton till October, at least not for our sake, and we do not wish for that to happen. Let's all look forward to Worlds being held sometime later (maybe next month or May), in a location where it's safe for all skaters to focus only on their performances. Although it would be disappointing, under the circumstances the Japanese people will have no hard feelings should Worlds be relocated outside of Japan."

The incredible impracticality of holding a Championships in October is obvious to almost all except, it seems, the leaders of JSF and the ISU.  JSF should be awarded the 2014 Championships now, and if there is any practical, effective substitute location on the table for April or May it should be adopted ASAP.  Whether any of the offers on the table are practical and effective remains to be seen, but it should not be taking as long as it has for the ISU to figure that out.  Moscow is mentioned as a front runner.  They appear to have a large arena available, though travel costs will be very expensive, and the visa process to travel to Russia is slow and convoluted -- pure torture.  Colorado Springs would be an easy location for U.S. Figure Skating to organize the event, being close to their headquarters, but the site has a poor reputation among the skaters due to its altitude.  Lake Placid has a lot of experience hosting large sporting events, but is remote and the arena is old and small.  Vancouver, coming off of the Olympics last year has many strengths, as would Torino which was the site of 2010 Worlds.  We are not familiar with the offers from Finland or Germany, but both countries have held Worlds previously and certainly have facilities of the right size and an adequate hotel and transportation infrastructure to do a credible job.

Time is running out -- may already be out -- for the ISU to salvage 2011 Worlds.  It is hoped that the next ISU announcement will be definitive, and not an announcement that more announcements will be forthcoming.

Return to title page

Copyright 2011 by George S. Rossano