International figure skating officials finally get the message and act on conflicts of interest

Skate Canada president Leanna Caron was an ice dance judge at the 2018 Olympics. The ISU finally has acted to end such obvious conflicts of interest. (TV screenshot).

Skate Canada president Leanna Caron was an ice dance judge at the 2018 Olympics. The ISU finally has acted to end such obvious conflicts of interest. (TV screenshot).

 For nearly two years, I have loudly and pointedly decried the conflict of interest inherent in allowing presidents of national figure skating federations to judge significant events in the sport.

For most of that time, the cries fell on deaf ears.

Here is my story raising the issue in November 2017.  And here was another when feckless International Skating Union members – led by Skate Canada – voted against evening putting the issue to a vote at its 2018 Congress.

The cases I brought up involved Skate Canada president Leanna Caron, who has shamelessly continued her activities as a judge, and former U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier, who recused himself from judging major events during his presidency but still judged others “with the ISU’s permission.”

But lo and behold, the ISU appears finally to have gotten the message.

Changes to the ISU code of ethics, announced in an ISU communication dated Monday, will prohibit sitting ISU member federation presidents from judging at the Olympics, ISU Championships, senior Grand Prix events, and the senior and the junior Grand Prix Finals.

Had that rule been in place at the 2018 Olympics, Ms. Caron would have been sitting in the stands rather than on the judging panel in an ice dance event won (deservedly) by Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

The prohibition is more encompassing when it comes to serving as a referee or member of a technical panel at any of those events.  Those officiating positions now are closed to ISU member federation presidents, vice-presidents, directors general / secretaries and sports directors.

And there also is this, applying to the Olympic Games: no one from a country that had skaters in the top five at the worlds in the previous year or “who can reasonably be expected” to place in the top five at the ensuing Olympics can serve as a referee or member of a technical panel in the discipline where that country’s skater or team is in those top five classifications.

And that too would have put Ms. Caron in the stands in South Korea.

The ISU will apply the same restriction based on nationality and likely placement “whenever possible” to referees and technical panels at ISU senior championships.

And then it gets funky.

If the restriction is not possible, then the referee and all members of the technical panel shall, “whenever possible,” be from those countries whose skaters are expected to be in the top five.

Here is a link to the communication announcing the changes.  The constructions are a bit convoluted in places, so it might take multiple readings (it did for me) to sort this all out.

Will these new rules prevent all biased judging and back room deals?  Of course not.

But eliminating these obvious and egregious conflicts of interest is a good step.  It doesn’t matter that the individuals involved might be purer than Caesar’s wife.  The perception that conflict of interest might have affected the results never is erased if the conflicts exist.

So now I can move on to decrying something else, which is a significant symbolic issue rather than one affecting the integrity of competition.

The international ski federation just ditched the archaic use of the word “ladies” in reference to female athletes in its several sports, where the male athletes have been (and are) called men.

The female ski / snowboard / cross-country / jumping / etc. athletes now are referred to as “women.”  (Welcome to the 21st Century.)

When that change was announced in mid-June, I emailed the ISU to ask if it would follow its snowy cousins.  The ISU response:

“This would have to be submitted to the ISU Congress 2020 and with the agenda to be published in early 2020, it is too soon to say whether this topic will be included.”

I then asked U.S. Figure Skating if it would submit such a proposal, and the answer was the issue had yet to be discussed.

What is there to be discussed?  It’s 2019.  Let’s start giving the great female athletes in figure skating the full respect they deserve by dumping Victorian foof in favor of contemporary usage.

It’s women.  W-O-M-E-N.  How hard is that?