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U.S. Skating Denounces Judging System

March 13, 2003

Figure skating certainly doesn’t need another image problem, yet that’s just what U.S. officials fear a temporary scoring system is creating.

The U.S. Figure Skating Association said Wednesday it opposes use of the interim system because its anonymous display of marks has led to ``an environment of mistrust.″

A computer now randomly and secretly selects the judges whose scores count, with no one knowing which marks were used.

``The display of the marks has really created a problem in this country,″ said Phyllis Howard, president of the USFSA. ``In this country, we constantly use the word transparency.″

It’s doubtful, though, that changes could be made in time for the world championships, March 24-30 in Washington, D.C.

Desperate to avoid more judging scandals like the one that rocked the Salt Lake City Olympics, the International Skating Union is trying to come up with a system that will prevent cheating and make the sport more accountable.

While a revolutionary, computer-based scoring program is developed, the ISU is using its temporary system.

Instead of counting all of the marks and publicizing how each judge voted, a computer decides which judges marks will be used. All of the marks are still posted, but there’s no way to tell which counted.

That 6.0 a skater got? It might be meaningless.

``Every time we go further into secrecy, it even more tarnishes the integrity of our sport,″ said Ron Pfenning, referee of the pairs event in Salt Lake City. ``We have to be open. We have got to be above board. Everyone who is judging has to be accountable.″

The ISU was hoping the interim system would do that. Or at least protect it from the arm-twisting and badgering that’s gone on in the past.

Remember, this all started with French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne saying she’d been pressured to vote for the Russians in the pairs competition in Salt Lake City.

But critics fear the interim system’s anonymity simply gives shady judges a license to cheat.

``It could be there are judges from other federations that feel more comfortable judging now,″ Howard said. ``We would just like to see more information coming out. I think it would help the public.″

David Dore, ISU vice president, said he’s not as concerned about accountability with the interim system as he was initially.

``I’ve found the results to be amazingly accurate,″ Dore said. ``I go to the European championships, the Grand Prix Final and the results ... accurately reflected the performances.″

Skaters have their own issues with the new system. Not knowing how the judges scored them makes it tough to find out what they need to improve.

``Usually you know what a judge gave you. If you have any questions, you can ask them or ask somebody what they think about your program,″ Michelle Kwan said. ``Now it will be just closed doors.″

The USFSA also raised concerns about the proposed judging system, which would radically transform the sport by replacing the century-old 6.0 scale with a points system that gives every element an established value.

The system is expected to be used in the Grand Prix series next year as a further test, but the USFSA wants assurances it won’t be implemented without approval of the figure skating section at the ISU congress in 2004.

In a news release from its Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters, the USFSA also said the new system must include a selection system for judges that will equitably represent all parts of the world; a way to display all marks; and programs to train and evaluate judges.

The USFSA also again called for a lifetime ban for anyone found guilty of cheating.

``This is all in such a state of flux,″ Howard said. ``But I do think people are trying, I really do.″

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