Back in olden times -- the late 1800's specifically-- when regional/national sports federations of every type began to be formed and to organize, all sports on ice tended to be administered by just one association in each country or region. When international associations began to form that pattern was followed. In North America, at the beginning of the 20th century, an organization called the International Skating Union of America laid claim to the administration of speed skating, figure skating, and hockey in the United States and Canada. In Europe, in the 1890's, the ISU first laid claim to the administration of speed skating and figure skating in Europe, and later the World.
The practice of having one association govern multiple sports on ice did not last very long in North America or in most other countries, and within 20 years of the formation of the ISUofA there were separate national governing bodies in the United States and Canada, with separate associations for speed skating and figure skating. All of this got sorted out over 80 years ago. Today, most countries throughout the world with organized skating sports have separate associations to govern speed skating, figure skating and hockey. The ISU, however, remains the world governing body for both speed skating and figure skating. The recent history of the ISU raises the question of whether the ISU has outlived its usefulness and should be replaced with two separate international governing bodies that would better serve the two sports independently.
For the many years the speed skaters in the ISU have controlled management of the organization, to the detriment of figure skating. Most recently, at the 2002 ISU Congress the speed skaters ganged up on the figure skaters to force through approval of a "study" of the proposed computer based scoring system -- the first time in the history of the ISU this political maneuver was used to pass a discipline-specific proposal as a General Rule. At the Congress, the ISU president stated repeatedly, as he did for months in press conferences prior to the Congress, that the vote would only be for approval of a study, not implementation. Once the delegates went home however, the ISU president ignored his own words, ignored the intent and explicit votes of the congress, and is claiming that the proposed scoring system does not require a vote of approval by a future congress and can be put into use whenever he feels like it.
Is it a wonder that ethics is in short supply in the ISU, when the management of the organization engages in such shenanigans?
Beyond this, the speed skaters within the ISU have made it clear over the years they don't understand figure skating. Not one bit. They just don't get it. They don't understand what the sport is really about. They don't understand what should be rewarded and what should not. They don't understand that there is more difficulty to skating than solely the ability to jump. They don't understand the concept of a complete well rounded program. They don't understand the judging process, or the training and accountability of judges. They don't understand the scoring systems or the implications of their choices in scoring systems. They don't understand the concepts of fair play and a level playing field. They don't understand ethics. They don't understand treating skaters and the public with dignity and respect. They don't understand what the public finds appealing in the sport. They just don't get it.
Over the past decade the ISU, under speed skater management, has failed miserably to properly educate the media and the public about the sport of figure skating. This is a failure of the top management of the ISU. A failure from which they reap what they sow, because they just don't get it.
The ISU has been under intense pressure from the IOC to clean up its act since 1998. In the area of ethics, this pressure is well deserved, but in other respects the IOC's perception of figure skating is off-base, primarily because the top management of the ISU has failed to adequately educate the IOC. The IOC doesn't get it either, but at least they have a reason. Their understanding figure skating is limited by the fact it is acquired from an ISU leader that doesn't understand the sport himself.
At this point, perhaps it is time for the ISU to follow the path other organizations took over 80 years ago and cut figure skating loose. The ISU can continue to be the international governing body for speed skating, but the IOC should decertify the ISU as the international governing body for figure skating. The IOC should call an international conference of representatives from the national figure skating federation and direct the formation of a new international figure skating association.
The starting point for the work of such a conference could begin with the current rules of figure skating, which the IOC should then require to be revised/modified in the following ways. In the process, the IOC should make clear that the rules adopted must meet these goals before any new association would be certified as the international governing body for figure skating.
One final condition on such a conference, which of course we realize will never be held, would be that anyone who has ever been suspended by the ISU would not be permitted to participate in the formation of a new association.
The time has come to start over. Everyone Out of the Pool!
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Copyright 2003 by George S. Rossano