Chuck Foster in the Hot Seat

By Alexandra Stevenson

Chuck Foster may have been elected unopposed as the 27th President of the USFSA on May 10, but he knows his tenure is more than likely to be turbulent. In a teleconference with reporters from several of the nation’s leading newspapers three days later, he readily acknowledged that the association has been weak in its dealings with the sport’s world governing body, the International Skating Union, but declared, "Revolution is not the only path to reform.

"The most important thing right now is stewardship. I can tell you that I will do nothing to put our athletes at risk or association in jeopardy."

That means that although the USFSA has acknowledged that it supports the principles of the World Skating Federation, it is keeping its distance from the splinter group. "The principles are universal. I endorse the principles but I am unable to endorse the WSF. With membership in an organization comes obligations. We are members of the ISU with obligations to support that federation such as we have obligations to support the United States Olympic Committee and through that the International Olympic Committee."

The skating associations of the world must belong to the ISU in order to field competitors in the Olympic Games. Theoretically the ISU can expel the USFSA from membership if it does not fully comply with Article 7 of its rulebook dealing with loyalty.

The article reads, "Members have the obligation in all national and international matters to support the object, activities and unity of the ISU. Members shall not participate in any activity, national or international, against the integrity, exclusive role and interests of the ISU."

Of course without US participation in figure skating events, the US television companies will not be willing to pay so much for the Winter Olympic broadcast rights.

Foster said that at the Governing Council in Norfolk, Va., "Our association agreed overwhelmingly to work within the system."

He contends that, "I think one of the reasons they probably selected me is that I’m as well known as I am internationally and I don’t need an introduction. I’ve already heard from many members of the council and many presidents of other federations. I think that I have as good an opportunity to try to get others with similar ideas to help us increase our influence in the ISU."

Foster is a world-level ISU referee and has been an administrator with the ISU, USFSA and the USOC.

He talked of the unfortunate situation that dealing with the ISU "has never been a high priority with US Figure Skating." This was sadly apparent from John Lefevre’s report in a past Skating magazine in which he revealed that his group of delegates to the ISU Congress last June was unprepared for the massive backstage politicking and was forced to withdraw the USFSA’s proposal for judging reform.

Instead a Canadian suggestion was adopted and developed into the highly unpopular "interim" system. Spectators, and even the referee, can not determine which mark comes from which judge. This only serves to reinforce the media and the public’s perception of corruption in the sport which erupted after Olympic pairs judge, Marie Reine Le Gounge of France, confessed to wrong-doing.

Foster stressed, "We’ve got to learn to do business with the ISU. We need to work within the system. We need to, as the US, improve our influence. This is where we have been lacking. We have not paid attention to the ISU. We’ve let things slip. We haven’t prepared for the meetings as we should.

"Now, it is my hope, that we will. We will be constantly thinking about changes that we would like to see instituted. And we have to work all the time at getting them implemented. It is incumbent upon us to become more effective. We need to develop the strategic plan on what the issues are and how we want to deal with them.

"I’ve immediately undertaken this task. We need to get the proper people on this Committee to help implement it."

As for the "new" system of marking which will be used to determine results for the first time this season at certain events including Skate America, Foster fudged. "The jury is out on that one. We have agreed that it will be tested during the Grand Prix Series. I think we’ll withhold our judgment on it at this time until after the results of this test are in."

The system discards the 6.0 scale. A professional "spotter" feeds into the computer each move with its set value immediately the skater performs it. The judges merely grade the moves as well as give points for other categories (i.e. choreography).

It requires a very specific video system and Foster confirmed that, except for ISU international events, within the United States the "old" system will continue to be used.

Reacting to the harm done to figure skating’s image by the Salt Lake Olympic pairs scandal, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, gave the President of the ISU, Ottavio Cinquanta, an ultimatum to the effect, "Clean up your sport, or else!"

Cinquanta reacted by cutting corners to push through the "new" system so it would be in force for the 2006 Olympics.

Foster says "We are against secrecy a hundred percent. We will have an opportunity in the future. We could submit to the ISU a proposal to return to the old judging system at the next congress. We are going to work on proposals. There is nothing to stop us from doing things like that in the future."

He does emphasize that the USFSA must work "to develop alliances" and build support for the members’ view.

"We need to, as the United States, improve our influence. This is where we’ve been lacking. We have not paid attention to the ISU. We’ve let things slip. We haven’t been prepared for meetings as well as we should have. It’s incumbent on us to be more effective there."

He also believes change in the way the ISU works is in the wind. "The ISU is working on a major restructuring. We have John Lefevre working on the restructuring. I think you’ll see major changes in governance as well as a strong ethics policy from the ISU shortly."

If so, the change is more than badly needed. At the world championships judges exposed as corrupt, Alfred Korytek and Yuri Balkov, were rubbing our noses in the fact that they had got away with dishonest judging since they were back officiating after only a short suspension.

Foster replaced Phyllis Howard as President. Howard is a member of the ISU Council. "She will bring our point of view to the council and hopefully will argue for it. I will make every effort to ensure that she presents our point of view."

However members on the ISU Council often see themselves above any national issues. I well remember the disappointment faced by Carol Fox and Richard Dalley, a US ice dance couple, because of a ruling voted for by the archdeacon of skating officials, Ben Wright, who is American. [See correction.]

Fox and Dalley competed in the 1982 world championships. However that summer the ISU decided to reduce the number of entries for world championships. To earn the maximum three entries the following year, a country had to place the singles skater or ice dance couple (but not the pair) in the top three and that competitor had to be a part of the team. The pair regulation remained as it was previously. You had to make the top five.

In 1982 Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert, the US ice dance champions, just failed to get into the top three and Fox and Dalley, who placed third in the 1983 US championships, did not get to compete in the 1983 worlds.  Fortunately Judy and Michael edged into third in 1983, so they, Carol and Richard, and Eliza Spitz and Scott Gregory were able to go to the 1984 Olympics.

In the US there are separate associations governing figure skating and long and short track speed skating, as is the case in many other countries. Foster was asked about the possibility of the USFSA pushing the ISU into two separate divisions.

He replied, "In a perfect world they probably would but I don’t think it’s at all under consideration now. I think it would be very difficult to accomplish."

Foster won the 1955 US junior pairs championship with Maribel Y. Owen, who was killed in the 1961 plane crash, and, naturally, vows that he will do his best to support this area.

"Pair skating – of course, it’s my love. We have a weakness in pairs mainly because we have a hard time getting the proper people together trouble in this type of a free market system that we have and we have a hard time keeping them together. We will do as much as can to try to put emphasis on developing pairs. It’s very important."

However, he stressed that, "We have many constituencies and must be sensitive to all their desires, not just the elite, but synchronized, the adult program, the 100,000 basic skills skaters. Without investment in the young with their Olympic dreams, we will not have an elite of the future."