In (sort of) suspending a skating judge, international federation mocks fans with ethical relativism

  A Chinese judge was suspended for bias that led him to overlook mistakes like this botched landing by Chinese pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong and place them first in the Olympic free skate.  (Screenshot from the Olympic Channel.)

A Chinese judge was suspended for bias that led him to overlook mistakes like this botched landing by Chinese pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong and place them first in the Olympic free skate.  (Screenshot from the Olympic Channel.)

In mid-June, the International Skating Union gave a one-year suspension to Huang Feng of China for showing “obvious and systematic” national bias in his judging of the pairs event at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The first weekend of July, the international federation allowed Huang not only to attend an important ISU seminar on the ramifications of recent scoring system changes but also to take – and pass – a test for promotion as a technical controller, an event official's position that can have an even bigger impact on the outcome of a competition than a judge.

Huh?

The ISU willingly provided me an answer to that befuddling question, but the logic in the answer smacks of relative ethics in an area where absolute ethics are demanded.  The bureaucratic hair-splitting involved simply is unacceptable.

And the ISU's "discipline" of the miscreant judge gives skating fans yet another reason to wonder if they can ever trust the results in this highly subjective sport.

My actual question to the ISU was:  “Will he (Huang) be allowed to serve in the TC (technical controller) position while he is suspended for national bias?   If not, why promote him or allow him to test?”

This was the email response from the ISU media department: “According to the decision of the ISU Disciplinary Commission, Mr. Huang Feng is suspended in his function as ISU Judge for Ice Dance and Single & Pair Skating and International Referee for Single and Pair Skating.

“He is not suspended in his function as International Technical Controller.  Mr. Huang Feng therefore was allowed to attend the ISU Seminar and officiate as Technical Controller.

“However, he has not been appointed to officiate at ISU Events (ISU Championships, ISU Grand Prix and World Team Trophy) during the season 2018/19.”

Let’s see what we have here:

*Feng also received a letter of warning from the ISU for national bias in January, just one month before the Olympics.  That was related to his “biased judging” (the ISU’s words) at the 2017 Grand Prix Final.

*That letter obviously had no deterrent effect, as was clear from his shamelessly favoring Chinese silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong and another Chinese pair, eighth finishers Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao, at the Winter Games in South Korea.  (The ISU disciplinary commission laid out the evidence of Huang’s bias and revealed the letter of warning in its 17-page final decision, which you can read by clicking here.)

*The ISU found that Huang, whom it calls the “alleged offender” even after having established his malfeasance, violated Rule 430 of its Special Regulations for Single and Pair Skating.  Part of that rule reads:

 “Officials must:

“- not show bias for or against any Competitor on any grounds;

“- be completely impartial and neutral at all times.”

*The ISU found that Huang also violated its Code of Ethics, which has a section (3-h) beginning:  “To assure my independence and integrity, and the honesty of the ISU sports, I agree to absolutely reject and forego any partisan and parochial attitudes, approaches and interests, to refrain from any attempt to influence the course and/or results of any ice skating event in a manner contrary to sporting ethics.”

*In its final decision, the ISU disciplinary commission excoriated Huang: “The seriousness of his misconduct is aggravated by the fact that it was committed at the Olympic Winter Games, the doubtlessly most important and prestigious competition that exists in Figure Skating.”

With all that, the punishment was just a one-year suspension as a judge and referee?  And that suspension did not prevent Feng from getting a promotion from international technical controller to ISU technical controller, the highest level of that position?  And everyone should feel good because the ISU says Feng can’t be a technical controller during the suspension?

Please.

But now consider the source.

*The ISU is the organization that did not ban the sulfurous Didier Gailhaguet for life, as it should have, after Gailhaguet’s complicity in the 2002 Olympic pairs skating scandal.  Gailhaguet got just a three-year ban and not only is president of the French Ice Sports Federation (re-elected in June for a sixth term) but ran unsuccessfully for ISU president in 2016.

*The ISU is the organization whose members last month made a mockery of their own ISU Council by rejecting without discussion the council’s common-sense proposal to stop the unconscionable conflict of interest that allows the top skating official of national federations to judge major international events.

*The ISU is the organization that does not realize how bad it looks to let a judge work again in that capacity - or any official capacity - after having been found guilty of bias or other judging misconduct after a suspension for those offenses.  (There have been numerous such cases in the past.)  These officials should be banned for life because judging misconduct is the moral equivalent of homicide in their sport.

  Some of the evidence the ISU used in its discipline of Huang Feng. (https://www.isu.org/communications/17359-case-2018-02-isu-vs-huang/file) 

Some of the evidence the ISU used in its discipline of Huang Feng. (https://www.isu.org/communications/17359-case-2018-02-isu-vs-huang/file) 

*The ISU is the organization that apparently thinks you can be a little pregnant.  After all, it gave Chen Weiguang, another Chinese judge found guilty of bias (toward China’s Jin Boyang in men’s singles) at the 2018 Olympics, a two-year suspension and a ban from judging at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

To explain the difference in those punishments, the ISU media department said this in an email:  “We understand that the ISU Disciplinary Commission considered the bias of Ms. Chen more outrageous than the bias of Mr. Huang Feng.”

You also can infer that from language in the final decision that says Chen’s “marks were completely unrealistic and obviously aimed to prefer the Chinese skater and to put him in first place.”  The language in the Huang decision is not as pointed. . .but he had ALREADY AND RECENTLY RECEIVED A WARNING about bias.

One judge was outrageous (by implication), the other more outrageous (stated).  And these two will be officiating figure skating events again.  There is no explanation for that.  Would you let a bank official guilty of embezzlement go back to work in a bank?

The two Chinese judges were not the only ones who gave marks smacking of national bias at the Olympics.  Several readers have pointed out to me the marks of U.S. judge Lorrie Parker in the men’s singles free skate, where she placed eventual champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan fifth and sixth finisher Vincent Zhou of the United States third.  Both those placements (and the scores Parker gave) were well out of line from those of the other eight judges.

I asked the ISU if Parker had received at least a letter of warning for her actions in South Korea and was told that such information was not published but given to the judge and his or her national federation.  

*The ISU is the organization that long ago should have moved towards employing, at least for the senior level, paid, professional judges who no longer would be allowed to have any allegiance or interaction with a national federation.

The cost of doing that might not be substantially more than that of paying for the wining and dining and travel and lodging and flattering (bribing?) of judges that takes place today.  It certainly would be less than the cost in lost credibility the ISU sadly seems willing to keep paying.