Today's session of the Governing Council began with a few hours of minor domestic business of little complexity or controversy, and it was not until mid-morning the fireworks began.
During the morning Ron Penning attempted to have the report of the Nomination Committee, the elections and New Business moved up so that the delegates would be fresh when this business was considered. Usually all of this comes at the very end of the meeting when time is running out and the delegates are exhausted. The motion to revise the agenda failed, with the delegates swayed to wait until various ISU reports were given, after which discussion was expected to follow.
The meeting proceeded with the pre-determined agenda, and during the International Committee report chairman Jon Jackson gave an eloquent report lamenting the inaction of the USFSA in standing up for US athletes within the ISU, and for failing to put some action behind its words. In what was largely a farewell address, he noted how both Pfenning and he had been thrown out of their positions within the USFSA. He closed by urging the Governing Council to have the courage to make change.
Following his comments, USFSA President Phyllis Howard made a statement stating the views of Mr. Jackson were not necessarily the views and opinions of the rest of the Athlete Services Committee, and indeed for most of his comments they sat on the dais in stony silence.
Following the Athlete Services Committee reports, Howard adjourned the meeting and two hours of "reports" and ISU developed presentations ensued. These reports were a one-sided defense of the ISU and attack on the WSF - as well as a carefully crafted defense of the ISU reform proposals -- proposals the USFSA has decided to endorse and support in total.
After two hours wielding a sledge hammer to crack a walnut, questions, discussions or alternate opinions were not permitted. It appeared to many that the maneuver of adjourning the meeting during the presentations was to prevent the delegates from asking questions or discussing the issues on the record, or from making motions on the presentations. Indeed, one motion a delegate wanted to make during one of these reports was maneuvered into new business in order to be considered.
Among the New Business, two controversial motions were presented. In one, the Governing Council was asked to go on record stating "We the members of the USFSA will not tolerate nor will we support tactics of fear and intimidation currently being carried out by the ISU." The motion did not pass.
In the second item, the motion described in Friday's report was presented. After extensive discussion the following substitute motion was passed:
"The USFSA states its commitment on honesty, integrity and openness to the sport of figure skating, together with provisions for full participation, including a vote of athlete and coaches in the governance of the sport at all levels including the technical committees and the council. We direct the Executive Committee and Executive Director to take the message to the ISU Restructuring Committee."
New Business was followed by the election of officers, and for the first time in over 20 years there was a contested election. Prior to the meeting it had been speculated that a slate of candidates favorable to the WSF would be nominated. Instead, a series of nominations was made for each of the three vice-president positions. For the office of president Charles Foster was elected without opposition.
The nominations for vice-president were made to symbolically raise the issue of the lack of openness in the Nomination Committee and election process that is used by the Association. In two of the three contested elections the nominee from the floor made a short statement and then declined the nomination. In the third case, Todd Eldredge ran for the Midwestern Vice-President office against the incumbent, Will Smith. Smith won the election 615 to 435, with 607 votes needed to win.
The election process was extremely time consuming, and in the future a revolutionary new process process will be used to bring the USFSA into the 21st century. Fourteen ballot boxes will be used. Nine will be randomly selected. The two heaviest boxes and the two lightest boxes will be discarded. The remaining five boxes will be counted.
(No. Not really.)
The meeting closed with a brief acceptance speech from Foster.
At the banquet following the meeting, Michelle Kwan received her third consecutive Skating Magazine Reader's Choice Award. Kwan has won the award seven of the fifteen years it has been awarded and after receiving it, it was announced that in the future the award will be known as the Michele Kwan Award.
Talk about a busy day! In order to free up as much time as possible on Saturday for WSF/ISU issues and a potentially contested election, the Governing Council flogged its work until 8 PM, long after the planned ending time of 5 PM.
During the morning session, over an hour was spent amending, and discussing, and tweaking a bylaw to change the process for electing the Nominating Committee, only in the end to have the proposal sent off to the Board of Directors for study.
Following lunch, the afternoon session began with over two hours spent writing and rewriting from the floor every minute detail of the two redistricting plans, known as the 12/4 option and the 9/3 percentage qualification option. In the end, the 12/4 plan was approved, redrawing the map for regional and sectional qualifying competitions - with one major modification made to the original plan. That part of the plan which had the Juvenile and Intermediate skaters qualifying for Junior Nationals through regionals and sectionals was eliminated, and skaters at those levels will continue to qualify for Junior Nationals directly from regionals. The top three finishers from each of the new regions will qualify, keeping the size of Junior Nationals the same - 36 skaters maximum for each event.
An unexpectedly contentious item was a revision on the bye rules. In the end, it was decided to eliminate medical byes, and to allow the top six finishers at U.S. Nationals to proceed directly to Nationals the following year. In addition, restrictions to the fill-up rules were discussed and revised several times and then were applied to all events at Junior Nationals and at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
In a preview of the business that will take place tomorrow, the WSF released the text of the motion that will be introduced regarding the WSF. It reads as follows:
"Without expressing the endorsement or support of the World Skating Federation or its activities, the USFSA appreciates the focus of the World Figure Skating Federation on honesty, integrity, and openness to the sport of figure skating, together with provisions for full participation of athletes and coaches in the governance of the sport."
Even in this watered down form, this motion is sure to provoke passionate discussion when it comes to the floor.
Related to this subject, the Executive Committee took several actions earlier in the week. An action opposing the use of the proposed ISU scoring system at Skate America was defeated and two weaker positions were take. In one, the Executive Committee stated that "participation in ISU events using the New Judging System - including the 2003-2004 Skate America - is with reservations, and in the second "that the USFSA recommend conducting, if feasible, a side-by-side comparison of the current judging system (6.0 system with ordinals) and the proposed New Judging System at the 2003-2004 Skate America Competition."
On the subject of athlete participation in the governance of international skating, the Executive Committee made the following statement: "in the light of the positive experience with respect to strong athlete representation and participation in the USFSA, we approve the concept of international athletes having an effective voice and vote affecting their interests in the organization and governance of figure skating internationally."
The preliminaries are finished. The Board of Directors has completed its action items. The educational meetings are done. Tomorrow the delegates begin the business of the Governing Council.
The two hot topics here are the redistricting of the competition regions and sections in the U.S., and the position the USFSA should take with respect to the WSF and the ISU. The Board of Directors voted to accept the 12/4 redistricting plan, but discussion in the delegates' sectional caucuses this evening indicated this will be energetically discussed when presented to the Governing Council, and passage is not assured.
The Nominating Committee presented its slate of candidates and Charles Foster has been selected as the candidate for President. The buzz is that Jon Jackson will be nominated from the floor and the meeting organizers are prepared for the closed ballot that will follow if that comes to pass.
Following the caucuses, the WSF gave a presentation attended by about 300 delegates and conducted a question and answer session. Prior to the meeting there has been a great deal of discussion and concern over how far the USFSA and its members could go in supporting the WSF without running afoul of the ISU in terms of membership in the ISU and eligibility of American skaters. Emotions has been heightened by the draconian action of Skate Canada, which in late-April not only came out in opposition to the WSF but also warned all its members and clubs that anyone who spoke out in support of the WSF would be thrown out of Skate Canada.
Ron Pfenning, the Acting President of the WSF, began by remarking on the climate of fear that was being created by the ISU and said he thought is was "a sad thing." He then began his presentation which outlined the reasons for the origin of the WSF, the goals of the WSF, and the ways the USFSA could potentially support the goals of the WSF. He faulted the ISU for allowing judges caught cheating to return to judging, for ignoring its own rules, and for thwarting effort to expose wrongdoing. He said that the situation had gotten increasingly gotten worse and that he had come to conclude the ISU could not be reformed from within.
Throughout the presentation Pfenning stressed repeatedly the WSF was not asking any federation to leave the ISU or to join the WSF or to even endorse the WSF as an organization. He said that the USFSA could help speed change by working with both the ISU and supporting the principles of the WSF. He attempted to reassure the delegates that ISU could not legally retaliate against the USFSA or its members and spoke out strongly urging free debate and discussion of the issues in the absence of intimidation. He pointed out the ISU rules only allows action against a member federation for "serious violations" of the ISU rules and made reference to the fact that the actions of French officials and the French and Russian Federations were not considered "serious violations" by the ISU, so how could mere discussion of the issues rise to the level of "serious violations."
Pfenning indicated that some actions would be presented to the Governing Council during the new business portion of the meeting, which will occur Saturday afternoon. At this time it appears these actions will be limited to the USFSA going on record in support of a democratic process in the reform of skating, and making it clear the USFSA will take action against the ISU if it attempts to intimidate the USFSA or its members.
He closed by pointing out that the USFSA and international skating is at a crossroads in its relationship with the two choices the continued dictatorship of the ISU or a democratic course of action.
During the question and answer period Jon Jackson remarked, "When dealing with a dictator and a bully you have to stand up to him or it never stops." Pfenning pointed out that six member federations of the ISU had filed protests at the ISU that had been rejected recently and that they were considering bringing their protests to the Court for Arbitration in Sports.
Also present at the meeting were Paul Wylie and coach Kathy Casey who spoke of the reasons for their involvement in the WSF.
The meeting closed with Pfenning remarking about what he considered to be the futility of trying to achieve reform within the ISU and said "I have spoken to them eye to eye. The road we are going down is right and we must continue to go down that road."