Sunday, March 21

Stapleford and Lindgren Reply to My Patrick Ibens Interview

Sally Stapleford and Britta Lindgren (two of the witnesses of French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne's confession of wrongly judging the 2002 Olympic pairs competition due to pressure from her Federation) teamed up to write this letter to me, sharing their thoughts on my interview with 2010 Olympic judge Patrick Ibens.

Our comments on your interview with Patrick Ibens, plus Sonia Bianchetti's thoughts on this subject. 

Both of us read your interview with Patrick Ibens, which covered why he is retiring from judging. His departure will be a huge loss to the sport, as he represented all the values that are so important for good judging, namely honesty, integrity, fairness, independence and knowledge.

Patrick started his international judging career in 1992, when I was Chairperson of the ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee and Britta was a member. That Committee worked tirelessly to educate the judges/referees, and instigated numerous educational projects, which assisted Patrick and others to develop their knowledge of judging.

Sadly the new judging system has no transparency, which is a terrible failing. Patrick does say: "that is why I was glad to have such a great panel for the men's short program in Vancouver. No controversy there!" It must be remembered that the ISU instigated this non transparent judging system to ensure there will never be another scandal like the one that occurred in Salt Lake in 2002, as no one knows who has done what, and the majority of judges are always correct regardless of the actual performances. In Salt Lake everyone, knew the judges’ marks/placements, hence the corruption being exposed to the world. But sadly the ISU's reaction was to introduce a system that would hide all corruption. No doubt the panel of judges in Vancouver for the men's event were good overall, but this should not be left to luck. 

Figure Skating is not an "absolute " sport and it never will be. The best and fairest judging can only happen under "relative" judging - when one compares one performance to another. To think otherwise reflects - in our view - a
complete ignorance of a fair elevation system within a subjective sport. This is especially true with the Program Components scores. Patrick also states that in his view only 10% of judges are honest. This surely should be very worrying for the ISU.

The ISU should reflect on the fact that they’re creating judges that are far less accountable and, also now a part of their education system is letting them down. Before the new judging system came into force, the respective Referees and Technical Committees scrutinized the judges' marks/placements. At the "Event Review" meeting at the conclusion of the events, the respective judges  would have to explain in detail their rational for their individual
marks/placements. Having to explain in detail the reasons for your marks reflects knowledge - or lack of it - so the Referee can assess the competence of the judges. There would be an open discussion at these meetings, which would also form part of an overall education system. This doesn’t happen now as no one knows who has done what!  Therefore incompetent/dishonest judges can sit at the meeting after the event without explaining anything in regards to their scores, and no one can accurately gauge their knowledge or lack of it.

As Patrick states, this system is "saving the not so good judges", and sadly it will promote these "not so good judges" up the ranks, and in years to come all judges could well be "not so good!"  There are judges still around that were brought up in the system prior to the one in existence now, and experienced individual accountability. They know what it was like to have to explain their marks/placements, that there was total transparency of
their judging, plus they could not hide behind secrecy and being in the "corridor". They were held accountable for all their marks/placements. If you were a honest/independent/ knowledgeable judge you would relish the  opportunity to explain fully your rationale for certain marks/placements, as we both did when we were judging. But the system that is now in place favours mediocrity and discourages independence.

Sadly some of the creators of this current judging system have never been judges, and, consequently, know very little of what is in the best interests when it comes to producing fair and honest judging. The others - within the ISU - who have been judges, and should have known better, appear to have supported this system of non-accountably/transparency. Hopefully now they will realise the error of their ways - which was totally predictable – by blindly going along with a Speed Skating President and his followers.

As Sonia states, " the role of a judge now is as exciting as that of a cashier in a supermarket". We would go further! In theory a cashier in a supermarket  - with very limited knowledge of figure skating - could actually be parachuted on to a judging panel and be assessed as good, purely by being in the "corridor".

All this supermarket cashier - no disrespect to cashiers in supermarkets as they do a superb job - needs is a smattering of English. Remember that now they don’t have to explain their personal evaluations – for the Technical scores follow the tree forest of ISU guidelines - and for the Program Components follow previous scores from other competitions for the respective skater/s. Easy, and by following this formula the cashier will be in the corridor and hailed as a good judge!

When are the ISU going to "wake up and smell the roses?" They need to realise that they should scrap the famous "corridor" and return to a system that encourages judges not to worry about being in the "corridor" or "in line", but to judge fairly/ honestly and independently, knowing that even if they are not in the “corridor “-
but correct - they will be supported, while others who are incorrect but in the “corridor" will not be supported and be evaluated negatively. Under this current poor system the judges in the "corridor" are always correct, while others – outside of it - who might be the only correct judges are automatically wrong. This system encourages judges to stay in the "corridor" as Patrick states, and going by what judges tell us that is exactly what is happening. The ISU is trying to say that they have a system that allows the "corridor" to be enlarged, but this is pure stupidity because it still saves the incompetent judges!

The ISU is also cutting back on the duration of time that judges can attend championships – a false economy. Judges need to be present for the duration of championships to watch other events. This increases their knowledge, keeps them in touch with the development of the sport, and, therefore, helps them to become better judges. This is especially helpful to judges from nations who do not have the opportunity at home to watch high levels of skating. In our tenure the FSTC introduced “trial” judging at certain competitions /championships to enable judges - who were not officiating on certain panels - to sit in the stands and judge with FSTC members. Their marks/evaluations/views regarding the performances were fully discussed and this – like other educational projects we instigated - were an important education tool. The ISU should reinstate our policy from next season.

Sadly the ISU just doesn’t seem to understand that judges give up their work/free time for little, if any financial compensation. If they want to stay on and watch other events we presume they’re expected to fund this further education themselves? This is totally wrong. If the ISU wishes to make cut backs - totally understandable in the  current economic climate - we suggest they looked closer to home. Why not stop all business class travel, have all partners/spouses of ISU office holders pay their own way to ISU events, and have all ISU meetings at the secretariat in Lausanne, instead of travelling the world for meetings. Also cut back on commissions - are they value for money? But don’t restrict judges from improving their knowledge of the sport.

Finally we hope that other judges will have the courage to speak out regarding the shortcomings of the new judging system, which despite having some good points, also has many failings. ISU office holders and Members should have the courage of their convictions and speak out loudly to try to change the obvious problems within the system before more judges - like Patrick - throw in the towel. Sadly this may not happen as ever since the 2002 ISU Congress when the famous "project" became a "rule", ISU Members have allowed - at subsequent ISU Congresses - to have their power eroded, and now they have very little influence over the direction of Figure Skating. Ultimately they may live to regret not fighting for what is in the best interests of the sport we love.

Sally A Stapleford OBE, Former Chairperson ISU Figure Skating Technical

Britta Lindgren, Former Member ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee.


et2 said...

The issue of transparency (i.e. secret judging) is exactly why I was part of SkateFAIR and participated in the protest in Washington at Worlds 2003.

WHEN is someone going to run against the Speedskating President and turn this ship around before it hits the iceberg and sinks???

Anonymous said...

There were too many cases where I felt the scores weird in the Vancouver Olympics.
Why do not the mass media take up these interviews and broadcast widely? Why do not these interviewees publicly accuse the ISU in the mass media?
I love figure skating too much to overlook these honest people's confession. How about you Tony?

Tony said...

I didn't think the judging in Vancouver was too bad, honestly. There were a few cases, such as Dube/Davison were held up a bit in their short program and the Zhangs were generally overmarked in my opinion, and I didn't agree with a third place free dance rank by Domnina/Shabalin, but there was nothing that would have resulted in a huge difference in standings between how I marked it and how the judges did.

As far as the mass media goes.. I don't know that they have the same opportunity to talk to someone like Patrick Ibens as I did (maybe they worry that they will be banned from being able to attend and cover the competitions?) I have known Ibens for a while and as soon as he said he was done with judging, I really jumped on the opportunity to get him to share his thoughts. Don't worry, though. I heard from a few people that attended the recent World Junior Championships that the interview definitely made its way through the ISU and many people were talking about it. That is a start!