The sport’s image needed a shine. But, JAMES DEACON reports, it didn’t get it.
STILL WHEELING AND DEALING
The sport’s image needed a shine. But, JAMES DEACON reports, it didn’t get it.
THERE WAS something comforting about the pairs skating scandal at last February’s Winter Games in Salt Lake City. After a flawless free skate, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier appeared to have been robbed of victory, and a French judge later confirmed there’d been some vote-rigging hanky-panky that put Russia’s Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze atop the podium. We revelled in our outrage and indignation until the International Skating Union finally agreed to amend the results and give Salé and Pelletier the gold medals they deserved. We were, everyone except a few Russians agreed, the good guys.
And that’s the way we’ve always liked it. Naively perhaps, Skate Canada for years aspired to be an honest broker in a sometimes dirty sport. Our judges were encouraged to remain aloof from other countries’ officials, to avoid even the hint of impropriety; and they were told to vote for the best performance, regardless of nationality. The vast majority of judges still take that approach, but institutionally, the halo has slipped. There are people in the Canadian skating community who strongly argue that if other countries’ judges support their skaters regardless of performance, then our officials ought to as well. While there have been no allegations of vote-swapping deals like the one exposed in Salt Lake City, judges say they’ve been urged to at least “get in the game,” as one put it.
And the man who presided over Skate Canada during this transitional period, former director-general David Dore, has just been elected vice-president of the ISU, making him the most powerful person in international figure skating. Even his harshest critics say he’s well-qualified for the new position. Dore, 62, earned widespread respect as a capable administrator in his 17 years atop the national governing body, and he’ll need all of that talent to run figure skating for the Lausanne-based union that presides over speed skating and short-track speed skat-
ing as well. But some experienced Canadian officials argue Dore used questionable tactics, including deals with other countries for their support, to achieve his ambitions. And they claim some old Dore loyalists got burned along the way. Fie refuses to refute his accusers, saying he doesn’t want “to denigrate those people.” Fie adds: “For whatever reasons, changes happen. There was an election, I won, and I’ve moved on.”
It’s a long and complicated story, and it began to unfold publicly in Salt Lake City. Ordinarily, Dore would have been the one to defend Salé and Pelletier, but he had resigned as head of Skate Canada
just before the Games. That left the public duties in Utah to the woman he helped become the organization’s volunteer president, Marilyn Chidlow. It was a tough situation for someone with little media experience—there was intense press coverage of the controversy. But Chidlow did herself no favours. At press conferences, she contradicted the efforts of Canadian officials, including chef de mission Sally Rehorick, who were loudly calling for an independent inquiry into corrupt judging and the ISU. Astoundingly, Chidlow told reporters that no outside investigation into judging was necessary and that she endorsed the ISU’s ability to clean its own house—all evidence to the contrary.
She continued to confound at the ISU
Congress in Kyoto, Japan, last June. During elections for senior posts within the skating organization, Chidlow openly voted for Russia’s Alexander Gorshkov to head the ice-dance technical committee, and not for Ann Shaw, a Canadian candidate with sparkling credentials. Witnesses claim there were audible gasps in the meeting room—Gorshkov is a judge who for years helped keep Canada’s Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz off the podium at major events.
Which brings us back to Dore. His resignation from a paid position with Skate Canada last January seemed odd right before an Olympics, but it ensured he’d be reinstated as an “amateur” by the time the ISU Congress began in June. That enabled him to run for ISU council in Kyoto, and later, as a last-minute candidate for vice-president. To back Dore, Skate Canada unceremoniously dropped its support for its original nominee, Joyce Hisey, a highly respected ISU official. And when Dore was elected vice-president, Hisey was dumped from the ballot for
as they prepare for a new season—their last in the amateur ranks—knowing that Gorshkov now controls ice dance and holds that office in part because Canada supported him. Imagine Shaw’s humiliation and sense of betrayal at being publicly rejected by her own federation.
And Hisey? Being so callously dumped as Skate Canada’s nominee for council was an affront after decades of service to both the ISU and the national federation, and it hurt. “What offends me,” she says, “is that no one even bothered to call me and let me know what was going on.” It didn’t have to be that way. “David’s been a friend for 40 years—babies, birthdays, all of it,” she says a little sadly, adding: “I would have happily stepped aside if they’d asked, because David would have been the logical candidate for Canada.”
Given the very public pummelling it took at the Olympics, figure skating needed to spend the off-season polishing its image. Instead, a few wrists were slapped— Marie-Reine Le Gougne has been suspended through the 2006 Olympics, as has
bloc voting that has plagued the sport. But under the format, judges’ marks will be anonymous—a step backward given the sport’s problem with accountability. And individual nations will still appoint the judges who can be selected for ISU panels. That spells trouble. “Judges need to be removed totally from any kind of association with their countries,” says Rehorick, a veteran judge herself.
The ISU saved its worst treatment for Stapleford, the ISU technical committee chairwoman to whom Le Gougne confessed. Stapleford immediately relayed the information to ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta and, eventually, to inquiring reporters who were hotly pursuing the story that was then engulfing the Games. Her reward for coming forward? Months later, at the meetings in Kyoto and away from the media, Cinquanta berated Stapleford for not fully supporting his judging-reform initiatives. She was then voted out of her senior ISU position and stripped of her 2002-03 refereeing assignments. “We tried to bring honesty and
There have been no allegations of voteswapping deals, but Canadian judges have been urged to at least ‘get in the game’
Council altogether because no country can have two members.
Was Chidlow acting on Dore’s instructions all along in a trade-off to get the ISU’s and Russia’s support? Hisey’s convinced of it. “It’s very sad,” she says. “I think David could have been elected on his own merits, but now we’ll never know.” And Sally Stapleford, a prominent British judge and long-time friend of Dore’s, says she was stunned by Chidlow’s vote for Gorshkov. “All I can say is it appears there was a political reason to do it,” Stapleford says. “It’s just not something a country’s federation ever does.”
The Dore election puts a Canadian at the top of the ISU heap, but at what cost? Imagine how Bourne and Kraatz must feel
French skating federation head Didier Gailhaguet, who allegedly arranged the Olympic pairs deal so that Russia’s judge would support the French in ice dance. But Gailhaguet has since been reaffirmed as head of his federation, and he flouted his suspension by turning up at an ISU event in Nice. As well, the ISU sent letters of reprimand to each of the judges and referees who came forward in Salt Lake City to report the wrong-doing. But no Russian officials were ever investigated or punished for their role in the deal, although a Russian mobster has been arrested in Italy and charged with bankrolling the Olympic vote swap.
The ISU has developed a promising new judging system that, when the kinks are ironed out, could eliminate most of the
integrity to the sport,” she said in defence of the majority of judges. “But I’m not a politician—I said what’s on my mind.” Cinquanta claims he’s determined to shake up skating’s highest ranks, and make the sport more accountable. But the treatment of Stapleford is the same shootthe-messenger approach that the ISU took in disciplining Canadian judge Jean Senft, who in 1998 uncovered evidence of bloc voting in the ice-dance event in Nagano. For her efforts, Senft was suspended for six months because, as Cinquanta explained, her “attitude on the occasion of an event was not in line with the conduct of an international judge.” If that’s Cinquanta’s idea of cleaning up figure skating, then the sport is in even more trouble than most people think. n
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