Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Skating's Last Straw? Pt 2: The Rocky Road to Dublin

Just getting this out of the way... I’ve obviously been neglecting my blogging duties of late, and again I apologize for that. Work has been steady and constant; I’m always appreciative and grateful when that happens, but that’s also when State of the Skate is most often forced to take a back seat (especially in the off-season). I’m likely going through a bit of blog burnout too, as I’ve maintained SOTS for 6 years now without any official hiatus, off-season or otherwise. But let’s see if I can get back on track now... not with talk about Meryl & Maks (winners!), or Charlie & Tanith (engaged!!) or the epidemic of pair breakups (yet), or the onset of lyrics in competitive skating music (God help me!!!)... but a finish (or continuation, for now) to what I started back in April. And thanks for your patience!

SO, what’s been happening regarding Cinquanta, resignations, and that pesky short program since I last posted? Let’s see...

BACKTRACK PART 1: First, I want to point out this article from The Wire that ran very shortly after Adelina Sotnikova won Olympic Gold. Not only is it a fine reminder, several months after the fact, of what so many specifically got up in arms about in the first place... it is DEEP and it is DETAILED as it digs into the current scoring system (and the scoring of that event in particular) with video clips, protocol screen shots, and overall gusto:

BACKTRACK PART 2: Next, let’s backtrack to Dick Button’s fab op-ed that ran in Newsweek on 3/31.
Did you catch it? If not, here’s another one of my article breakdowns...

1st paragraph points out the decade-plus decline of figure skating and the fact that the ISU has been run by “speed skaters” for nearly 40 years...

2ndgraph discusses the indignation that erupted in Sochi when Sotnikova won over Kim Yu-Na... the complaint filed by Korea... the fact that the event already had questionable judging choices prior to the judging itself... and that an online protest petition has two million signatures...

3rd graph discusses how we need to go back to question of why speed skaters are running figure skating...

4th graph points out problems with the current judging system: rewarding falls over artistry, anonymous judges, etc.

5th graph declares it’s time for figure skaters to take back their sport... says the ISU needs to split into two organizations... and that speed skaters seem to hold all the cards right now.

6th graph says it’ll take a fight, but Sochi proved that the skating public is getting more & more outraged... ISU must return respect to judges and all that goes with it. We can find allies in associations from Australia, Japan, South Korea, hopefully others. “Figure skaters of the world, the opportunity is now. Take back your sport. Get the foxes out of the henhouse.”


In mid-April, USA Today's Nancy Armour reported South Korea’s complaint filed on a "disciplinary or ethical offense" which, unlike one filed for the results of a competition, can be accepted up to 60 days after said event. Complaint can then be referred to a full panel, or rejected outright... the decision is subject to appeal. (Sadly, it's now been “rejected outright” as per this ISU document)

And then there was this Reuters story from May 6...

From about a month ago, this piece doesn’t necessarily share anything new—the petitions (some engineered by 2-time World Champ Tim Wood), the reasons why, the fact that “the ISU didn’t respond to requests for comment from Reuters”... ah, there’s the significance. Not that the ISU blew off an interview request, but that the request—the article itself—was from Reuters. That’s Big Time in terms of newswires, right up there with Associated Press. Three months post-Olympics and the demands for Speedy’s hide had not only NOT faded... they’d commanded a mainstream audience. Could there be hope for us??

Then came last week’s (June 2) article from Phil Hersh, a “Danny Downer” for figure skating of late if ever there was one (I’ll give Christine Brennan the “Debbie Downer” honors). I put off reading his “ISU bosshas driven skating towards a ditch” piece as long as I could, but... well, I’ve got a job to do here. The gist of it, in case you don’t want to click on the link:

+  Another recap of how much money figure skating has lost in revenue since 1994 (when Speedy happened to take over)

+  Another assessment that both North America and Europe lack the talent and overall appeal to get skating anywhere close to its mid-90s popular heyday... along with the sentiment that South Korea’s interest is bound to decline now that Kim Yuna has retired. (Nothing was mentioned of how the sport is likely to continue thriving in Japan, but I suppose fans cannot live on Hanyu’s Pooh box of tissues alone...)

+  A mention of the petition Tim Wood started, calling for Speedy’s resignation and generating 33,500 signatures... followed by the grim (and probably true) declaration “It won’t happen”, referencing the meeting of the ISU Congress taking place in Dublin this week

+ Then he delineates why “it won’t happen” (the notion of him voluntarily stepping down is preposterous, and so is the idea of the ISU demanding his resignation—I assume that’s Hersh’s assessment, though he never says it directly)... Wood, for his part, seems to agree but gives the “couldn’t sit back idly and do nothing” explanation for starting the petition

+  He also quickly shuts down the re-proposed notion of figure skating and speed skating becoming separate entities, reminding us that the latter still needs the former far too much to let that happen

+ There are proposals submitted by both the US and Russia calling to end anonymous judging, but it would require backing by 2/3 of the 61 ISU member federations—a happening that Hersh (surprise!) considers highly unlikely

+ The silver lining to this whole damn cloud, if there is one... (reading from the article here)

The radical ideas Cinquanta proposed for both sports in a March internal letter obtained by the Tribune, including elimination of the short program in figure skating?  Not on the agenda for this Congress. 
(Except for the idea to make all senior free programs the same length of 4 minutes)

So there’s good news in that statement, right? No short program on the chopping block after all? But several questions linger: WHY are all those things “not on the agenda”? Who made that decision? Did the petitions influence that decision in ANY manner? Or are there ISU decision-makers that still tolerate Speedy for some confounded reason, but now draw the line at implementing the bulk of his senseless, rambling proposals?

Hersh didn’t answer any of these in his article, and that’s a surprising shame. If the petitions helped, we NEED that encouragement. If it was any other reason, we DESERVE to know it. We who love this sport—fans to athletes to coaches to everyone in between. Hope for figure skating’s future is scarce enough as it is... if this qualifies as hope, let us scrape as much of it out of the pail as we can!

I leave you with this: the image of two skating fans (or better said, former fans) protesting outside of the ISU Council being held in Dublin this week.  Though the article appears to be written by someone who is, at best, mildly amused by the sport and its scandals (just what we need!), I’m mighty glad the fans are there and they’ve garnished enough press to make the rounds on social media. Had the Council been held in or near any of the worlds’ skating hubs—Japan, South Korea, Eastern Europe, North America—maybe we’d have seen a lot more protesting taking place.

But, by Speedy Cinquanta’s choice, they’re convening in Dublin. As in IRELAND.  I mean no offense to my ancestral land with this statement, but Ireland has not yet developed into a hotbed of figure skating marvelousness... which surely translated into a minimum of “fans who gave a rusty hoot” about the sport (apologies to Button), and might show up with the goal of at least netting the ISU even more negative publicity.

Which is just the latest example of why I’m sure Speedy knows exactly what he’s doing.

And why those protesters are two of my favorite people in the world right now.


Pete said...

Excellent blog post Kelli! Now that the vote to end Secret Judging was defeated yet again by the Yes votes not claiming 2/3's of the total votes we need to investigate those 24 NGB's who voted NO to answer the question Why? In particular the NO vote from South Korea? Does Speed Skating control that nation's vote? It would seem so what with all the legal hoops the FS Section of their NGB have invested against the ISU over Sochi judging.

Kelli Lawrence said...

Don't you just want to go up to each pro-Secret Judging representative and shake them down, saying "WHO'S MAKING YOU DO THIS?? WE HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW!!"

Um, without committing an assault of course...

Anonymous said...

great article. thanks!