World » Americas
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Split: Skating on Verge of Cataclysm

New refereeing system introduced this year causes many difficulties
World figure skating is on the verge of a global cataclysm. During the world championship in Washington, a cluster of Americans announced the creation of a new World Skating Federation (WSF) distinct from the present-day International Skating Union (ISU). Famous American referee Ron Pfenning stands at the head of this group. Ron Pfenning criticized a refereeing experiment recently initiated by the ISU and was debarred from participation in the world championship in Washington.

It took just a short period of time for the offended referee to announce his response. The creation of a new federation that is to take place of the corrupt ISU was declared very pompously. The new pretenders suggest that ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta should be in charge of skaters and short track masters, but the new federation claims it is to take figure skaters under its own jurisdiction.

There are just a few people who have already joined Pfenning: ISU Technical Committee Chairwoman Sally Stapleford (Russian referee Alexander Lakernik took over the post), infamous 2002 Olympic champions Jemi Sale and David Pelletier, Lithuanian figure skaters Margaret Drobyazko and Povilas Vaganas (who strongly protested against the arbitrariness at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games and at the 2002 World Championship in Nagano) and skaters Todd Eldgredge, Brian Boitano and Scott Hamilton.

The logic of the honored skaters can be understood. Within the several past years, management of the ISU president effectively damaged professional world championships. Skaters are not eager now to quit an amateur sport in which they can earn much more than in a professional one. For example, the 2003 world championship prize money came to 1,014,750 dollars. The winners of men's and women's events got 55 thousand dollars each, and pairs got 82.5 thousand each.

How do the new organization’s men hope to attract leading figure skaters to the organization? They pin great hopes on television. American TV company ABC’s contract with the ISU expires next year. (This is the contract due to which amateur figure skating is prospering now.) ABC plans to conclude a new agreement with the WSF. However, it is still an open question whether leading skaters will participate in events organized by the new federation.

It is interesting that the majority of supporters of the new federation are sexual minorities; gold winner of the 2003 world championship Timothy Goebel, for instance.

The US's hopes that Russian skater Yeugeny Pluschenko would lose collapsed. That was rather hard to take indeed, taking into consideration the experimental refereeing system introduced this year. And the criteria used in refereeing ice dancing may become even more vague. At the championship in Washington, the computerized system conferred the winning prize on the Canadian pair, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Viktor Kraatz. The sum total of marks given by all referees to the Russian pair, Irina Lobacheva and Ilya Averbukh, was higher, but the random sample chose other skaters. When the championship was over, the Russian pair told said that, on the last days before the event, they had been strongly advised not to go to the Washington championship at all. They were offered compensation for declining to defend the champion title they won in Nagano last year. The sum of the compensation was promised to be higher than the prize money of the 2003 world championship (and the prize money is rather high: 82.5 thousand dollars).

Certainly, under conditions in which the ISU subsists on money from American television, it is more desirable that American and Canadian pairs should be triumphant. Probably, this is what the World Skating Federation hopes for. Under such conditions, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta should take elaborate measures, but not organize new refereeing experiments every year. Specialists say the main problem of skating competitions is that referees from national federations come to championships, while it would be better for an independent board to appoint them, the same way as in football and hockey.

Boris Olshevsky
Nezavisimoye Obozrenie