One of the more controversial proposals to be considered at the ISU congress in Davos this June deals with the process by which skaters qualify to compete at Worlds.
Under the current rules, each ISU member country is permitted at least one entrant in each event at Worlds. If the best placing representative from a country places in the top 10 in an event in a given year, that country is permitted two entrants in that event the following year, and if their best placing representative places in the top three (five in pairs) they are permitted three entrants in the event the following year.
Prior to the current use of qualifying rounds, all entrants would compete in the short programs, compulsory dances, and original dance, and then the top 20 entrants at would go on to compete in the free skating and free dance programs. As the number of ISU member nations grew, the number of entrants at Worlds likewise grew until a point was reached where the number of entrants in the ladies' and men's events was felt to be too great to be judged as single groups of skaters. In addition, countries whose skaters never reached the final round disliked the fact that their skaters never got to skate their long programs at Worlds. For these reasons a qualifying round format was introduced at Worlds, Junior Worlds, and Europeans.
Under the current format, if the number of entrants in the ladies' or men's event exceeds 30, qualifying rounds are held to reduce the number. Entrants who placed in the top ten the prior year, however, do not have to skate in the qualifying rounds. Based on the results from the qualifying rounds - where the entrants are divided into two groups and the long program is skated - skaters are cut to reduce the total number of entrants in the short program to 30 (31 to include a skater from the host country if they do not otherwise make the cut). In the pairs event, the number of entrants has not exceeded 30 and so a qualifying round is not required. In dance, the compulsory dances are used for the initial cut.
Following the short programs in singles and pairs, the 24 top placing entrants in each event go on to skate the long programs. Again, one entrant from the host country is added if none of the entrants from the host country would otherwise make the cut. In dance, 30 couples make the cut following the compulsory dances, and 24 make the cut following the original dance (plus one from the host country if necessary to insure that country an entrant in the final round).
This process has worked fairly well, but has not been free of criticism. Some feel that it unnecessarily inflates the time and expense of the competition, especially when only a handful of entrants are eliminated - as is sometimes the case at Europeans. Others, TV for example, ponder the issue of how differences in difficulty between the two qualifying groups affect the cut.
These issues, and the prospect of even larger competitions in the future, have prompted the ISU to re-examine the idea of replacing the qualifying round format with a qualifying competition format. In a qualifying competition format skaters must first place in a lower level of competition before advancing to a higher level of competition. This is the process used in both the United States and Canada in order to compete at their National Championships. In both the US and Canada there are two levels of qualifying competition below their Nationals.
A proposal to be considered at the June ISU congress calls for establishing geographic qualifying competitions to be used to determine which 30 entrants from the ISU member nations would compete at Worlds. While fairly straight-forward in concept, the devil - as they say - is in the details. One particularly sticky point about the current proposal is that it reserves 20 of the 30 slots in each event to European member countries of the ISU, and leaves only 10 for the rest of the World - perhaps the most blatant example of the Euro-centric bias of the ISU in recent memory, and a concept that most of the smaller non-Europeans countries might tend to find objectionable since using the current formula for entrants, the US and Canada together typically use five slots per event.
Other tricky issues to be resolved include determining the actual geographic boundaries that would be used to divide up the skating world, identification of the competitions that would serve as the qualifying competitions, entry criteria for the qualifying competitions, details of the criteria for advancing to Worlds, financial and scheduling constraints, prize money, the impact this approach would have on the development of skating in the smaller skating nations, its effect on the practice of smaller skating nations "buying/recruiting" skaters from other countries, etc.
Whether any of this comes to pass remains to be seen. Will the smaller non-European countries embrace a format that virtually denies their skaters any real opportunity to skate at Worlds? Will the US or Canada support a format that might reduce the number of skaters they would otherwise send to Worlds? Time will tell. If nothing else, however, this issue alone should make the ISU congress an "interesting" spectacle. We will keep you updated.
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