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Dueling Manifestos Highlight ISU Election

by George S. Rossano


(7 June 2016) On Friday (10 June 2016) the ISU will elect a new slate of office holders for two year terms to run through June 2018.  At the top of the ballot is the election of a new president to succeed the 22 year reign of the outgoing president Ottavio Cinquanta.

For his 22 year term of office and the preceding 14 years of the reign of Olaf Poulsen the ISU presidency has been held by a speed skating representative.  The last figure skater to hold the office of president was Jacques Favart, who was president from 1967 until his death in 1980.  Poulsen, as first vice president succeeded Favart, and subsequently won reelection three times.

 The four candidates for office this year are:

  • Christopher Buchanan (GRB), Chairman of the ISU Synchronized Skating Technical Committee
  • Jan Dijkema (NED), ISU Vice President for Speed Skating
  • Didier Gailhaguet (FRA), President of the French Ice Sport Federation
  • Gyorgy Sallak (HUN), ISU Development Coordinator

With more than one figure skating candidate running against a single speed skating candidate, the election begins at the outset tilting the election in favor of the speed skating candidate, though Sallak's connection to short track as well as figures may split the speed skating votes.

In an historic departure from the past, the four candidates have all released manifestos that describe to greater or lesser extent their views of the issues facing the ISU and their goals if elected president.  This development was started by Gailhaguet who last year launched a web site which lays out in great detail his ideas and program initiatives.  Never had an ISU candidate for president laid out in such detail in public view his agenda in seeking the ISU presidency.

On his web site, and in additional interviews, Gailhaguet has discussed five themes and 55 policy initiatives.  His five campaign themes are:

  • How can we all work together efficiently
  • Focusing our efforts on athletes and skaters
  • Fighting the threats that the ISU family faces
  • Modernizing ISU event presentation
  • Optimizing commercial growth of the ISU and its members

Gailhaguet's program includes everything a figure skating enthusiast could wish for, but his candidacy has not been embraced by fans due to his connection to events at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.  Skating fans have made it clear they are unwilling to forgive, or to weigh Gailhaguet's contributions to skating over the last 10 years against 2002, after serving his suspension.  If anything the mood we sense is that fans feel he was not punished sufficiently (for allegations he continues to reject) in 2002, and oppose his becoming president not so much to protect the integrity of the ISU, but to inflict a further punishment.

The second most detailed manifesto was put forward by Christopher Buchanan who's platform includes many elements of Gailhaguet's.  In his manifesto Buchanan identifies nine challenges facing the ISU:

• Transparency
• Sustainability
• Accountability
• Public and IOC credibility
• Reputation challenges
• Accessibility
• Remaining relevant to youth audience
• Protecting and increasing revenue
• Embracing the ‘digital challenge’

In listing transparency, skating fans may immediately think of transparency in judging (something he also embraces), but when all the ISU candidates speak of transparency they are primarily speaking of transparency in business practices, financial matters and in day-to-day operations.  Drilling down on his challenges, Buchanan's manifesto includes 20 bullet points elaborating on his themes.  In an exclusive interview with ISIO Buchanan also provided additional details on his concerns for the future of figure skating within the ISU.  His thoughtful grasp of the issues facing figure skating is also a program skating fans should find favor with.

Prior to Dijkema announcing his candidacy at nearly the last moment, Gailhaguet was viewed as the front runner, notwithstanding the views of fans in North America.  The entry of Dijkema, however, roughly a week after 2016 Worlds (where he was present behind the scenes to gauge support for a potential candidacy from among the figure skating members of the ISU ) changed the whole dynamic of the race.  There are more speed skating votes than figure skating votes in the ISU, and he is the only speed skating candidate on the ballot.

Dijkema's manifesto identifies three strategic themes:

• Marketing, Promotion & Digitalization
• Development
• Good Governance

His manifesto includes twelve bullet points elaborating on his management themes.  His platform specifically related to figure skating is unknown, and he declined an interview request from ISIO, referring us to his manifesto.

According to ISU insiders we have spoken to, it is thought that Dijkema will operate as president using the model of Olaf Poulsen who took charge of the top level management issues of the ISU and left the operations of each branch under the guidance of the two vice presidents.

Dijkema is age eligible to serve as president a maximum of six years, as he will age out by the election of 2022.  It has been rumored among ISU insiders  since he announced, that Dijkema intends to serve for only this initially two year term to allow some of the new blood expected to be elected this year to other offices to develop into viable presidential candidates for 2018.  (Note, 11 June: during the congress Dijkema reportedly confirmed this intention  while campaigning; however, following his election he was quoted in his remarks to the congress leaving the door open to running again in 2018, referring to a two year term "in principle."

Perhaps the least well know of the candidates, at least to skating fans, is Sallak, the head of the ISU development program since 1998.  In addition, Sallak was General Secretary/General Director of the Hungarian National Skating Federation from 1989-2016, and International Director of the Hungarian National Skating Federation since 2016.  Sallak has strong connection to both the figure skating and speed skating communities, putting him in the best position to challenge Dijkema for speed skating votes.

The four main themes of his manifesto consist of:

• Extending Development
• Bringing ISU Sports Closer to the Audience
• Keeping Our Skaters in Focus
• Having Sound Finances and a Solid Administration

Within these themes, he identifies 24 priorities to achieve his goals.  Although he has not provided specific examples related to figure skating, the tenor of his priorities for development and public outreach seem to be largely directed at figure skating.

Vice President

At this time, the buzz is that Dijkema has sufficient support to be elected. If that proves the case, and he adopts the Poulsen model of management, then the elections for the vice presidents have enhanced importance.

There are two candidates for the vice president for figure skating, Maria Lundmark (FIN) and Alexander Lakernik (RUS).  Lundmark was an ISU council member up until April of this year when she became figure skating vice president upon the death of David Dore.  Lundmark was then replaced on the council by Maria Samaranch (daughter of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch) as council member.  Lakernik is the outgoing chairman of the Singles and Pairs Technical Committee.  He has aged out for that position but remains age eligible this year for the vice-presidency and the council.


There are eleven candidates for the four figure skating positions on the council, including three running for higher office. The process for ISU elections is such that candidates can run for multiple offices.  Elections are held top down.  If a candidate is elected for a higher office they come off the ballot for the lower office.  For example, Buchanan is a candidate for president, council and synchronized skating chair.  Both Lundmark and Lakernik are candidates for both figure skating vice president and the council.  [Note, 9 June: During the congress the number council positions was increased to five each for figures and speed, beginning with this election.]

The figure skating candidates for the council are:

  • Christopher Buchanan, Great Britain
  • Slobodan Delic, Serbia
  • Katarina Henrikkson, Sweden
  • Junko Hiramatsu, Japan
  • Alexander Lakernik, Russia
  • Ievgen Larin, Ukraine
  • Benoit Lavoie, Canada
  • Maria Lundmark, Finland
  • Maria Teresa Samaranch, Spain
  • Patricia St. Peter, United States of America
  • Rita Zonnekeyn, Belgium

Hiramatsu and Samaranch are currently on the council, and Lundmark was a council member until April.

Technical Committee Chairs

Fabio Bianchetti (ITA) is running unopposed for the chair of the singles and pairs committee.

Halina Gordon-Poltorak (POL) and Alla Shekhovtsova (RUS) are running for chair of the dance committee.  The buzz has it Shekhovtsova is going to step aside for incumbent Gordon-Poltarak and in return is being supported to serve again as a member of the committee.

Christopher Buchanan and Mika Saarelainen (FIN) are running for chair of the synchronized committee.  If Buchanan wins higher office, Saarelainen would then be running unopposed.

Copyright 2016 by George S. Rossano