In needed move to prevent federation figure skating heads from judging, ISU still needs to go further

  The 2018 Olympic free dance judges' panel.    Judge 2, Leanna Caron, is president of Canada's figure skating federation, Skate Canada.  (Screenshot from Olympic Channel video.)

The 2018 Olympic free dance judges' panel.  Judge 2, Leanna Caron, is president of Canada's figure skating federation, Skate Canada.  (Screenshot from Olympic Channel video.)

The International Skating Union’s biennial congress early next month will consider a proposal that might have been unnecessary if the top Canadian figure skating federation official had a more accurate ethical compass.

So you can call Urgent Proposal No. 6 the Leanna Caron Rule, since the proposal obviously was spurred largely by the actions of Skate Canada president Caron.

The proposal, submitted by the ISU Council, is a move in the right direction toward eliminating conflicts of interest that can undermine confidence in judging of this highly subjective sport.  Hopefully, it will pass.

But it doesn’t go quite far enough.

And the ISU needs to change another regulation so it can go further.

Urgent Proposal 6 would prevent national figure federation presidents (and the senior-most figure skating official in countries where one federation governs both figure and speed skating) from doing what Caron unreservedly did last season: be an ice dance judge in the team event ice dance and the ice dance events at the Olympics as well as be an ice dance and men’s singles judge for junior and senior events at the Grand Prix Final.

The proposal would bar anyone serving as the leading figure skating official of a national federation from being a judge, referee, technical controller, technical specialist, data operator, replay operator or member of an officials’ assessment committee (OAC) at major international events: the Olympics, World Championships, European Championships, Four Continents Championships, Grand Prix Final and World Team Trophy.

That would cover not only Caron but also Anne Cammett, a singles / pairs referee last season who was elected this month as U.S. Figure Skating president.

If those in the same situation as Caron and Cammett wanted to be beyond reproach, they would simply give up all international officiating roles – including Challenger and Grand Prix series events - while serving as presidents of their respective federations.  That is what the ISU eventually should decree.

After all, Section 4 (f) of the ISU Code of Ethics reads, “I agree not to hold any official position within my ISU Member organization that at any time could be, or reasonably appear to be, in conflict with my independent status, duty and loyalty to the ISU.”

A leading sports ethics scholar, Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado Boulder, told me that sentence is unambiguous in its intent to prevent a national federation president or other top national federation official from judging, even if there is no rule explicitly prohibiting it.

Asked whether she intended to give up her roles as an international competition official during her term as USFS president whether or not Urgent Proposal 6 passes, Cammett replied in an email, “My international officiating duties will be greatly reduced now that I am president. However, I will meet the minimum activity requirements to maintain my international officiating status so that I may return to those duties once my role as U.S. Figure Skating president is complete.“

And that’s where this gets tricky.

Rules 412 and 413 of the ISU Special Regulations for singles / pairs and ice dance require international referees and judges seeklng renewed nomination for the upcoming season to have officiated at international competitions over the previous three seasons.  For all top-level referees and judges, that means judging at least one international competition.

Rule 411 outlines the international events at which competition officials can meet the certification criteria  – the Olympics, ISU championships, Grand Prix Series, Challenger Series and certain “open international competitions,” as defined in Rule 107 of the ISU Constitution.

There previously has been no rule addressing the ethical conundrum posed to federation presidents by the requirements. That dilemma is spelled out in the reason given for Urgent Proposal 6:  "To avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of national bias of Officials at ISU Championships, major ISU Events, and the Olympic Winter Games."

When I first wrote about this issue last November, I found Caron and then USFS President Samuel Auxier unique among major federation presidents in having this conflict: the presidents of the Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Kazakh, Russian, and Spanish federations, all of which, like Canada and the U.S., have had senior World Championship medalists since the 2014 Olympic season, were not on the ISU list of referees, judges, technical controllers, technical specialists, data & replay operators for the 2017-18 season.  (No second-in-command of those nine federations, who often is the top full-time employee, was on that 2017-18 list.  Nevertheless, it would be better if they too had been covered as well by Urgent Proposal 6.)

Auxier, USFS president for the four years preceding Cammett’s election, disqualified himself from judging major events to lessen potential conflicts of interest while fulfilling the requirements to remain an active judge.  He judged one discipline at one Challenger Series event last season; in the 2016-17 season, he did three disciplines at one Grand Prix event (not the final) and one discipline at a Challenger Series event.

The ISU simply must find another way for national federation presidents to retain (or regain) eligibility as international competition referees, judges, etc. if their stay in the top national office lasts more than two years and no more than six years.

(I would have anyone who wants to remain a federation president longer than six years be disqualified from officiating again at international competitions.  You choose one or the other.  And, clearly, not many people would be affected.)

So, back to Ms. Caron.

At the 2018 Olympics, according to data on skatingscores.com, she placed the second-best Canadian ice dance team, Kaitlyn Weaver-Andrew Poje, third of 20 entrants in the free dance, which was three places higher than their placement by any other judge.  Caron also had them third in the short dance, two places higher than any other judge.  Weaver and Poje would finish seventh in the free dance, eighth in the short dance and eighth overall.

And then there were her free dance marks for Gabriella Papadakis-Guillaume Cizeron of France, who won that segment while finishing second overall to deserving champions Tessa Virtue-Scott Moir of Canada:  Caron’s raw scores for the French, both in technical and components, were substantially the lowest of those given by the nine judges.  Virtue-Moir won gold by .79 points.

Even presuming nothing nefarious underlying Caron’s scores, they smacked of national bias and became the subject of a number of stories in the international press - and comments on social media - during the Olympics.

You could say the same of some other judges’ scores, but none of the other 12 who judged the Olympic ice dance event also was president of a national figure skating federation.

Props to the ISU Council for trying to stop that from happening again at a major competition.  Adopting the Leanna Caron Rule would be a good step in the seemingly Sisyphean battle against conflicts of interest in the sport.  More such steps should follow.

(Correction: an earlier version of this story erroneously said virtually all judges / referees must officiate at three international competitions in the previous three years to apply for renomination.  It is actually one competition in that time period.)