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Interview with Christopher Buchanan


Christopher Buchanan, one of four candidates for the ISU presidency shares with us his vision for the future of the ISU.  This interview was conducted by e-mail and has been edited only for formatting and spelling.  We thank Mr. Buchanan for taking the time to address our questions.

ISIO: Most fans are probably unfamiliar with your background in skating and within the ISU, even though you have been active in skating and the ISU for many years. What are the key elements of your background that have helped lead you to the point of seeking the ISU presidency?

CB: In my formative years (yes, I can remember that far back), I was a competitive ice dancer at national level. Since then, I have worked at the grassroots of the ISU as well as progressing over the years to become the Chair of the Synchro Technical Committee. However, I also have a strong background in Ice Dance and have been an Olympic official as well as having officiated at many Championship events as Judge, Referee, Technical Specialist and Technical Controller. I am also an ISU Component moderator as well as having been an Officials Assessment Commission member for many years – up until becoming Technical Committee Chair. I have been a moderator for Ice Dance and Synchronized Skating at the main ISU Technical, Judges and Referee training seminar in Frankfurt for many years – this has allowed me to build relationships with our officials from all member federations.

As well as the ISU seminars, I have worked with a large number of our member federations in delivering local seminars, workshops and training camps for their skaters and officials of all levels.

This has given me a great insight into the problems and challenges facing our member federations at grass-roots level. I have worked for many years within my own federation as an official as well as a Board Director. This involved working to help stage everything from local club competitions to major ISU Championships. I feel I have worked at all levels of skating and tried to contribute across a wide spectrum of activities.

Working within the ISU has also given me a good insight into the challenges faced by the governing body in managing its relationships with members, other sporting bodies and governments e.g. IOC, WADA. These challenges require significant time and expertise to be managed effectively. Our reputation has taken some knocks in the eyes of the public with various scandals and drug abuse problems. We need to take strong action to clean up our sport and ensure that our reputation is restored in the eyes of the public, media, IOC and other regulatory bodies.

ISIO:  In what ways do you feel your professional background in the financial industry would be an asset should you be elected to the ISU presidency?

CB: During my time in the Financial Services industry (over 35 years), I have worked and lived for many years in North America, Continental Europe and the Far East. I feel this experience has given me an insight into the strengths that exist in different cultures as well as gaining an appreciation of the fact that there are many ways to approach and address different challenges. My experience gained running global divisions and managing organisations with budgets in excess of $100 million gives me the management experience required to apply strong business principles to ensure the efficient and effective running of the ISU for the benefit of its member federations. This experience has been gained at the leading edge of technology and finance in one of the fastest moving and most demanding of business environments. I believe that my business experience has shown I have the capacity for the hard work needed to create a transparent, effective and efficient operating environment for the ISU and its member federations.

ISIO:  Many current ISU office holders have aged out, which will result in a changing of the guard for many positions.  What are the main challenges/issues facing the ISU that the new president and office holders must address?

CB: The major challenge will be ensuring continuity and effective handling of the external relationships the ISU must manage to guarantee a seamless passing of responsibilities and an uninterrupted delivery of services and events for ISU members. There are many contractual areas that will have to be addressed immediately after the elections and a huge body of experience will no longer be part of the organization. It will be a very steep learning curve but with the guidance of the ISU secretariat, I am absolutely certain that the transition period will not interrupt the operations of the ISU. It will be essential to try and organize debriefing / handover sessions with those stepping down from the Council and other positions.

ISIO:  The next president begins with only a two year term before having to stand for re-election again in 2018.  What would be your highest priority to accomplish in the next two years?  What would be your longer term program goals?

CB: A review and simplification of the judging system aligned with changes in the presentation of the results. At the same time I would be sponsoring the removal of anonymized judging.

The implementation of open and transparent processes for bidding and the allocation of ISU events.

The establishment of a Development Commission to ensure efficient and transparent use and distribution of ISU Development funds.

The development of a new management structure for the ISU for presentation to the next Congress in 2018 for their consideration and approval. This will be done with the objective of ensuring transparency and openness in all aspects of the ISU governance and operation by having clear management structures with dissemination of responsibility for areas of management and accountability for delivery. There will be an immediate de-centralization of control and decision making within the current ISU Council and Committee structure.

My longer-term program of work has been laid out in my manifesto.

ISIO:  A common theme of the candidates this year has been transparency in the financial and business dealings of the ISU.  For figure skating fans, transparence and integrity in the judging is perhaps more important.  Where do you stand on eliminating anonymous judging, and at the same time what new steps do you think should be taken to insure the integrity of judging?

CB: As I have said in the previous point, removal of anonymous judging is one of my primary objectives as soon as is possible. Being a very long-standing judge, I have absolutely no problem in standing by the marks that I give and being openly accountable for being able to state why I have given those marks.

I feel we must look at making it more important to the judges that they give fair and impartial marks for our skaters. Differences of opinion are healthy but bias or incompetent judging are not. I would be insisting on a stronger training regime for our judges to ensure they have all of the tools necessary to be effective but that comes with stronger sanctions for those found to be abusing the system.

ISIO:  Figure skating is immensely popular in some countries, less so in others than in the past.  What approach should the ISU take to increase public interest and greater participation in skating?

CB: I believe we have lost some of our public support through an over-emphasis on technicalities that has resulted in a loss of individuality and artistry. Our sport is unique in that it offers a magical combination of athleticism and artistry. We remember the great artistic performances delivered with individuality and personality, not the programs that tick the technical box more than any others but do that at the expense of performance and innovation.

Bringing more people to actively participate in the sport will mean a change in the elitist attitude towards some disciplines – adult skating and team skating are two prime examples. Being more creative with how we present events and giving the opportunity to showcase other skating disciplines at our events – as we did with the Shanghai Trophy where we had a joint Short Track and Synchronized Skating event that was enthusiastically supported by an almost sold-out audience in a huge stadium arena.

Different formats and an expansion into newer, different and more action packed events to attract new sectors of younger participants not traditionally drawn to traditional ISU disciplines. Collaboration with television programs that raise the public consumption of skating – also working with media experts regarding the best way of presenting our events to the major TV audiences.

ISIO:  Sports media interest in some countries is also woefully absent in some countries.  What can the ISU do to change that?

CB: Unless there is a local interest in the country, it is difficult to get the interest of local sports media but if there is a sufficiently high TV consumption of skating then local sports media will start to show an interest in the general international results and report those. I do believe that we have the technology now to allow low-cost broadcasting of local events which can lead to more sports media coverage. Of course, a general growth across all skating disciplines would also help foster interest from the sports media.

ISIO:  A commonly heard public criticism is that IJS has negatively affected the look and appeal of skating.  Do you agree with that, and do you think any adjustments to IJS are needed to increase skating’s appeal to the public?

CB: I have a number of initiatives that I wish to introduce related to the IJS approach. Simplification of the system itself combined with a complete revamp of the way the results are presented to the media and the public to make the numbers meaningful and easily understood.

ISIO:  A recent attempt to bring synchronized skating into the Olympic Winter Games was unsuccessful.  Why do you think that was the case, and what can be done going forward to achieve that goal?

CB: I have been driving the Olympic agenda for Synchro since becoming Chair of the Synchro Technical Committee and have no intention of stopping until it becomes a reality. The application for inclusion in 2018 fell foul of the problems in Korea in completing the venues, the additional costs for including Synchronized Skating in the program and their ability to deliver additional accommodation for 200 athletes as well as the perceived logistical challenge of including Synchro in the Figure Skating stadium schedule.

The IOC seemed very happy with the discipline when they made their visits to the events and with the information we supplied to support the application for inclusion in the Olympic Winter Games.

We have already been making inroads with the Chinese Federation to ensure we would have their support for an application for inclusion in the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. We do expect this to go well.

ISIO:  Going forward, to what extent should the ISU promote the greater development of other disciplines such as theatrical skating, adult skating and theatre on ice?

CB: I would be looking to support any discipline that increases participation in skating at any level and any discipline. I have been a strong support of Adult Skating for many years and have officiated at the ISU Adult event in Oberstdorf since its inception 10 years ago.

Theatre on Ice is a recreational discipline that should be supported as it gives an opportunity to many skaters to have the competition experience as well as a regular structured competition experience that isn’t as demanding in terms of time or finance as the major ISU disciplines require.

The objective is to give as many avenues as possible for people to continue with their participation in our sport. Whether this is more recreational in nature doesn’t matter – everyone is welcome to enjoy the sport we all love.

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Copyright 2016 by George S. Rossano