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2016 ISU Congress Highlights

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany


(17 June 2016) The 2016 ISU congress took place in a Sheraton hotel a few miles from the historic Croatian city of Dubrovnik, with a beautiful view on the Mediterranean coast. It was one of the more important congresses of the ISU with many positive decisions towards greater openness and democracy, in the case of new office holders as well as new rules.

New president Jan Dijkema beats three rivals

Outgoing president Ottavio Cinquanta with incoming president Jan Dijkema
Photo courtesy of ISU

After four days of discussions and decisions about rules changes and a huge thunderstorm during the night, the elections took place on the last day, but peacefully and without thunderstorm in the hotel. Mathematically new was that abstentions counted when an absolute majority was needed. Example: If there were 100 votes and 20 abstained, up to this congress 41 (more than half the remaining 80) were needed for an absolute majority. But this time 51 of the 100 votes were necessary. For the elections, there were 115 voting delegates, about half of them from speed skating and half from figure skating. Big federations like the two from the USA had as many votes as small ones like Andorra, Brazil or Thailand: If speed and figure skating are existing in the country, they had one vote for each of these two branches, if only one branch exists in that country, it had one vote.

In the first election a successor for 77-year-old president Ottavio Cinquanta had to be found because he was too old to try to get re-elected and was nominated Honorary President. Each of the four candidates was allowed to present himself in a speech of five minutes. In the first round nobody reached the absolute majority of 58 votes: Jan Dijkema (pronounce “Dike ma” with a stress on the first syllable) from the Netherlands had 45, Gyorgy Sallak from Hungary 43, Didier Gailhaguet from France 25 and Christopher Buchanan from Britain only 2. In the second election round a simple majority would have been enough, but Gailhaguet and Buchanan withdrew after their disappointing result in the first round.

During his professional campaign which lasted for eight months, Gailhaguet had been the favorite for many months in spite of his bad reputation since the Salt Lake City story of 2002. But since March of this year, the situation changed. Many federations received several anonymous E-Mails in which the other candidates were heavily criticized, but there was no mail which criticized Gailhaguet. Therefore some delegates said they had the suspicion that these mails were sent by Gailhaguet’s agency.

 Just a few days before the Congress and even during the rule discussions before the elections, delegates reported that he lost support by his undiplomatic criticism which one delegate quoted as "unique tacky" and left numerous delegates "appalled". He presented a long list of famous former or present skaters who he said were supporting him, but it was too late to check if this was true.

Buchanan, on the other side, is regarded as nice, friendly and polite and rhetorically convincing, but was not taken a serious candidate; and his reputation is not the one of a constant hard worker. As head of the ISU Synchronizing Committee for example, he had presented some of his proposal too late for the usual process, but only as urgent proposals in the last minute. So he probably only got Britain’s two votes.

In the second election round Dijkema received 63 and Sallak 52 votes. Sallak, who had been the director general of the combined Hungarian speed and figure skating federation, had faced criticism before. As Development Coordinator of the ISU he had (until this congress) control over a budget of about 5 million dollars per year for skaters and projects of poorer and smaller federations. He was sharply criticized for his administration of the development funds in the anonymous E-Mails and he is said to have granted far more money to his own country than some delegates thought appropriate. He got a first slap before the elections when the Congress decided to install a development commission of three people instead of one coordinator.

 In the first meeting of the new council after the Congress, the council decided not include him in the new development commission. Until the council decides the membership of the new commission at its next meeting in September, the two new vice presidents of the ISU will deal with the regular business of the development commission.

During the Congress, another negative for Hungary and Sallak was the last minute cancellation of a planned big "surprise" reception for outgoing president Ottavio Cinquanta. This was viewed by many as a campaign reception for Sallak, and therefore the legal advisors for the ISU consulted each other and convinced Cinquanta and the whole Congress to cancel this reception. The reception of the South Korean Olympic City of Pyeongchang, the cruise ship tour around Dubrovnik on one evening, and the banquet with the Hungarian violinist Edvin Marton as star, none of which were organized by Hungary, were accepted without problems.

In light of all of the foregoing Jan Dijkema, 71 years old, was viewed as the least controversial consensus candidate. Figure skating fans might criticize that after Olav Poulsen and Ottavio Cinquanta (36 years between them), another president comes from speed skating. Nevertheless, Dijkema certainly seems to be the best candidate at a time when sports federations increasingly shun leaders with image problems.

 Dijkema’s advantage is that he had been in the council for 22 years and has been vice president for speed skating since 2010. So he knows the chances and the problems of the ISU very well. Those who know him better say he is a diplomat, a good business man, candid and open-minded. Before his work for the ISU he had had several political offices in the Netherlands, mainly business-oriented. During Worlds in Boston he had announced that he will stay president only for two years and then give the floor to a younger generation. He had published his main ideas in a manifesto on his website www.schaatsen.nl/media/21844/isu-manifesto-jan-dijkema.pdf.

After his election, Dijkemasaid in the first press conference the ISU ever gave during a congress that two years are very short, so he will “probably” stay in office only until 2018, but he will try his best. He said he was astonished that Cinquanta was not in favor of new tests of the B samples of the medalists of the Sochi Olympics which are being discussed at the moment. Dijkema said he will co-operate with the IOC. If they want new tests, he will support them and take consequences if doped athletes are found.

New vice president Alexander Lakernik

There were no big surprises for the other elections. New vice president for figure skating is Alexander Lakernik from Russia, up to now head of the ISU Singles and Pairs Technical Committee, a former professor of mathematics and one of the fathers of the present judging system. He won 81 votes, with his opponent Marie Lundmark from Finland gaining only 34. New and First Vice President for speed skating is Tron Espeli from Norway who follows Dijkema. Before the elections the congress had decided that the new council has a president, two vice presidents and five members from speed and five from figure skating instead of four for each branch up to now.

Junko Hiramatsu from Japan, member of the old council, got the most votes (94) for the new one. Other council members are the previous members Marie Lundmark from Finland (91 votes) and Maria Teresa Samaranch from Spain (67 votes), who had been in the council since the death of former vice president David Dore (Canada). She had a well-known support from a famous skater and countryman: Javier Fernandez, who on tour in Japan wished her good luck on his Facebook site.

 New in the council are two members from North America who both have a very good reputation and might be candidates for president in two years if they want: Former U.S. Figure Skating president Patricia St. Peter had 93 votes, which is enormous for a newly elected person, former Skate Canada president Benoit Lavoie had 86 votes. St. Peter is in the council instead of former U.S. council member Phyllis Howard who aged out. Rita Zonnekeyn from Belgium is the first alternate in case somebody retires.

New head of the Singles and Pairs Technical Committee, and successor of Alexander Lakernik, is Fabio Bianchetti from Italy, who ran unopposed. He follows into the footsteps of his mother Sonia Bianchetti who had been in the same position decades ago. Members are Susan Lynch from Australia, Yukiko Okabe from Japan and Rita Zonnekeyn from Belgium, plus a coach who still has to be nominated. First alternate is Daniel Delfa from Spain. Head of the Ice Dance Technical Committee remains Halina Gordon-Poltorak from Poland who beat her rival Alla Shekhovtseva from Russia with a huge majority. The latter remains a member, as well as new members Shawn Rettstatt from the USA who replaces Bob Horen (retirement for age reason), Hilary Selby (Britain) and the coach Maurizio Margaglio (Italy). First alternate is Christine Hurth from France, which country no longer has nay office holders in the ISU.

Christopher Buchanan did not make it to the top nor to the council, but he was relected head of the Synchronized Skating Technical Committee, winning over  Mika Saareläinen from Finland who remains a committee member. New in this committee are Petra Trybo from Sweden and Lois Long from the USA plus a coach. Head of the disciplinary commission remains Volker Waldeck, a lawyer from Germany.

No more anonymity of judges

The most important rule change at least for the image of skating in general and the reputation especially in North America: The anonymity of the judges in the important championships and the Grand Prix was almost anonymously abolished. It had been introduced when the present judging system came into effect after the Salt Lake City case in 2002. But now the wind has changed. So like in smaller competitions, from now on everybody who knows to read the detailed results and has a list of judges can see which judges gave which plus and minus points and which components. Longtime ISU event manager Peter Krick, who is retiring and was nominated honorary member of the ISU, stood up and warned the delegates about abolishing. He feared that more pressure may be put on judges from their national federation in the future again. But no country except Germany voted no. The big majority of the judges stands for their points and is willing to defend them if necessary, even if critical comments are made in the media again, like before 2002.

A step towards more democracy is also the foundation of an athletes commission. Several points are still unclear, but for sure at the next world championship in each discipline, the skaters will elect their representatives whose head will also have a seat in the council. It remains to be discussed if active skaters can be elected as well, or only skaters who just have finished their career. The ISU wants to avoid conflicts of interests, for example if a skater votes for abolishing a spin which he himself does not master very well. Another step to openness, at the next Congress in 2018 in Sevilla, Spain media persons will be accredited, and there were also discussions about a live stream of the whole congress.

For money reason, no majority was reached for France’s proposal to hold a federation presidents meeting in each year without congress. During each World Championship, there has existed a presidents’ informal meeting for many years, which does not cost very much, because many federation presidents are present anyway. The proposed marketing commission was not accepted, and marketing experts shall only be hired on an ad hoc-basis. After 2018 there shall be a winter festival or Skate Games in every non-Olympic year, with all branches of the ISU including synchronized skating, speed skating and short track. The Shanghai Trophy in March 2016 was already a beginning. An online-entry system for all championships and soon also for other international competitions shall be established.

The proposal that only one training day before a competition is free and for all other trainings the ice must be paid was rejected. If a skater (single, pair or ice dance) wants to compete for a different country, the waiting time is harmonized to only 12 months, but he must officially live in his new country for 12 months. His former country is no longer allowed to block him. This was the case with French skater Bruno Massot who wanted to compete for Germany with Aliona Savchenko and was blocked by the French federation until the German federation paid 28,000 dollars to the French. Only for the Olympic Games the old rules remain valid which say that a skater can only compete for a country for which he has citizenship.

Music rule changes

There are rule changes for music: Skaters shall no longer bring their music on CDs, but deliver it only in an electronic way. But this rule needs more technical expertise before being mandatory. Music with a commercial outing, wording or tone (for example jingles of commercials) is no longer allowed. Obviously some skater maybe from Finland had performed to such a music because it was a Finnish proposal. The first skater of each group must begin his program at the latest 30 seconds after he was called, and has no longer 30 extra seconds. In senior skating, falls are more severely punished: For the third and fourth fall in a program, a skater gets two points of deduction, for the fifth and every further fall three points. The two best groups in the free programs shall be divided into two sub-groups. Therefore the best three skaters (in pairs the best two) of the short program shall skate their free program as last three (two). The same applies for the second best group.

The duration of a short program shall be 2:40 minutes +/- 10 seconds. The duration of the short dance remains at 2:50 +/- 10 seconds. A simple dance lift may last 7 instead of 6 seconds at the most. The ten per cent bonus for pair skating elements in the second half of a free program, which was introduced some years ago and abolished in 2014, will not be re-introduced. A combination spin must have three positions in order to get more than the basic level. For health reason, the layback spin is no longer mandatory because there were too many ladies with back problems. The rules for repeated jumps and more jumps than allowed were softened. If, for example, a skaters performs a third double toe loop in combination with a triple Lutz in a program, then only the double toe loop gets zero points, but the Lutz will be counted. For junior pairs, every lift in group 5 is allowed this coming season. In order to get a level 4 for a twist (seniors and juniors), a split is no longer mandatory.

There are also rule changes for Synchronized Skating: There was no majority for the proposal to introduce a technical minimum score for the World Championships. “A minimum score for Synchronized World Championships would be the death of this discipline in the southern hemisphere”, commented the Finnish coach Oula Jääskeläinen who is coaching a team in South Africa. “My skaters cannot afford a second expensive trip from South Africa to Europe just to try to get the minimum. They have to pay everything out of their own pocket.” There will be a Junior World championship in Synchronized Skating every year from now on. A lift may be mandatory in the short program of Synchronized Skating, but not every year.

The maximum age for all officials in competition was harmonized to 70 years. So from now on, technical specialists may also be between 65 and 69 years, which was not possible up to now. For all round table discussions of international competitions, video must be available. For the next congress, technical specialists may apply as a member in the committees. In competitions in which they are not officials, the specialists are allowed to work as TV commentators, writers or for other media.

Rules changes from summer 2018

Instead of the present seven GOEs between +3 and -3 there will be eleven grades of execution between -5 and 5, beginning in the summer of 2018. This decision is really strange because seven grades for one single element are really enough. The judges are used to them and a change would be more stress for them.

The duration of the warm-up on the ice shall be shorter. For the short programs and short dance it will be only four minutes, for the free programs five minutes. The ISU tries to shorten the competition and says TV wants it. On the other hand these minutes are ideal for commercial breaks and at least in the men’s competition the warm-up is also exciting to watch. Many skaters and coaches have already criticized this rule change and hope it will not come into effect. They said they cannot test all their most important elements in less time.

Beginning in the summer of 2018, the pairs free program and men’s free program (with one less jumping element) will be 30 seconds shorter and have only four minutes.