South Korea embraces anonymous judging at ISU Congress

Say what? Are you kidding me? Are you really reading that headline correctly? Say it isn’t so!

But it is. South Korea, the country that presented a petition with two million signatures protesting the results of the women’s event at the Sochi Olympics – and which certainly wasn’t served well by anonymous judging – voted to keep it at the Congress, held in Dublin, Ireland this past week.

The proposal intending to do away with anonymous judging which has so frustrated and angered skating fans for the past 15 years or so, needed a two-thirds majority to pass at the ISU Congress. And the vote was very close, according to sources: 30 voted in favour of banning it, 24 were in favour of keeping it and two willy-nilly members abstained altogether. How can you not have an opinion on it?

Why is it so important to do away with anonymous judging? Originally, it was brought in supposedly to keep federations from pressuring judges at events, like the Salt Lake City Olympics. In reality, having such a clause isn’t going to stop federations from pressuring their own judges anyway. And the optics of it are terrible: it’s not transparent. Nobody can dispute results. Nobody can call things into question. It looks like a coverup. If there is anything that really bugged fans and people in the sport, it was this anonymous judging thing.

Case in point: The ISU disciplinary committee, in their ruling into the South Korean protest of the women’s Olympic event, were told by the ISU’s Officials’ Assessment Committee that the scores of Russian judge Alla Shekhovtseva were “within the acceptable range of scores.” Her judging therefore was not considered “unacceptable.” She got no assessment from them, with the panel deeming that her work was neither “biased nor partial to the Russian skater Sotnikova.”

I guess we have to take their word for it. We don’t know what this acceptable corridor was. Nor do we know which countries created it. In the old 6.0 days, the majority rule wasn’t always correct. A good referee would look at results of all judges and sometimes declare that a judge who was out of line had actually judged the event correctly and the others had missed it (or were perhaps colluding.) Everybody could learn how to be better from it.

While the fan base for skating is not in any way in trouble in Japan or South Korea, it is in other parts of the world, where skaters sometimes perform in empty rinks and TV deals aren’t what they used to be. This anonymous judging thing is vitally important to the future of the sport. Trust has been disappearing.

So what countries voted to do away with anonymous judging at the Congress? The ones you’d expect, mostly: Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Britain, Hungary, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, United States, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Boznia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and a little more surprising: Russia, which has been well served by anonymous judging.

Countries that voted to keep anonymous judging, according to sources close to the Congress were: Austria, Sweden, Finland, Germany, both North and South Korea, all southeast Asian nations, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, Georgia, Poland and Slovakia.

It’s entirely distressing to see countries like Sweden, Austria, Germany and South Korea voting to keep anonymous judging. Perhaps some members just don’t understand the implications? Do they want to keep judges’ scores secret? Why? What could possibly by in it for South Korea, especially with the 2018 Olympics coming up? The nobleness of their petition regarding the women’s event at the Olympics – at first they didn’t ask for medals to be reassigned, only that results be investigated “immediately and transparently” to ensure fair judging in the future – takes a bit of a hit, knowing that they want anonymous judging. It’s hard to comprehend. Open judging could have helped their case against the results of the Sochi event.

The Koreans must have been entirely frustrated in their protest and petition to the ISU. It certainly fell on deaf ears. First they were told that their original protest for a general investigation was outside the jurisdiction of the ISU disciplinary committee, who said a complaint must be directed at an individual or a federation. The committee invited South Korea to answer this. In total, it took South Korea 69 days to file the second one, against Shekhovtseva as the offender. Russia complained, because rules say you must protest within 60 days of the event. The committee countered, saying they had invited the Koreans to take a second crack at the problem and the second complaint was an amendment of the first.

Perhaps the Koreans should have thought more carefully about what they needed to take on. The new Korean complaint apparently dealt only with Shekhovtseva’s embrace of Adelina Sotnikova after the event was over. The problem with going after Shekhovtseva was that there are apparently no rules that prohibit her from judging, even if her husband is Russian federation director-general Valentin Piseev, according to the ISU. None of the rules apply to a family relationship, and Shekhovtseva and her husband weren’t officiating in the same event, the panel said. Perhaps it should. Isn’t that the spirit of ethics? (And no, perhaps federation presidents shouldn’t be judging their own skaters, as happens in other countries, which may not have enough judges to do so, by the way.)

The committee did note that “it would be obvious and reasonable to assume that she was under the influence of and had an emotional connection to the FSFR [Russian federation] in the pursuit of glory that a gold medal would bring to FSFR in an Olympic competition held in Russia. In a glaring testimony to the interest Shekhovtseva would have in the outcome of the competition, Shekhovtseva was seen embracing Sotnikova backstage …..”

Yet, the panel unravelled those assumptions. It differentiated between a judge on duty and off duty. (Who is ever “off duty” in ethics situations?) And they figured that Shekhovtseva was off-duty when she embraced Sotnikova. And the skater initiated the embrace, not Shekhovtseva. “A violation of the ISU rules requires a deliberate act,” the panel said in its decision. “The Alleged Offender [better known as Shekhovtseva], did not deliberately or negligently breach the rules. She responded reflexively.”

Boy they were splitting hairs. At the end of the day, the marks just didn’t make sense, and didn’t match what was seen on the ice.

The biggest question is: why didn’t South Korea ask the ISU to look into the actions of the technical controller, Alexander Lakernik, who is also a vice-president of the Russian federation? “Even a blind person could see the wrong edge of Sotnikova on her Lutz,” said one observer. “Except the technical controller and the technical specialist for whom the edges were correct. Nobody complained.”

The ISU should have appointed a special committee to verify the marks awarded by the judges and to have examined them. The rules allow this. The “extra” panel could have opened the mark vaults and evaluated them. But no, it’s easier for the ISU to ignore problems, especially if they want to avoid ruffling the feathers of Russia, a powerful voter in elections.

All in all, a sad day in the skating world.

7 thoughts on “South Korea embraces anonymous judging at ISU Congress

  1. As disappointing as it is that KSU didn’t really put in the best effort in the complaint AND voted for anonymous judging, do you really think KSU is the mastermind behind this? No, It’s all but a grand scheme that ISU pulled to get out of Sochi mess. ISU is the puppeteer controlling KSU as the puppet – and KSU has no choice but to be a loyal servant if they want to be a part of ISU – that is without much influence in Figure skating community (power/moneywise) IF KSU was willing to fight the result, do you think they would have been so careless to mention Alla and the hugging as their main argument? No, this smells a lot like a pre-meditated scheme on ISU’s part telling KSU how to file a complaint that will have the best chance to be dismissed. In the midst of all this, more than anything, I find ISU to be so manipulative, sly, and despicably calculated. Remember Philip Hursh’s article on Cinquanta’s letter to ISU officials? It said Cinquanta wished to keep anonymous judging in place. And his wishes came true. How? By pressuring the “underlings” to do the job and keep their true intentions hidden. Do you think Russia/Japan/US, who are practically running ISU with their power&money really disagreed with Cinquanta on this matter when they maintain such close relationships? Cinquanta maintained his position as the head of ISU, overruling his age limit, by supporting Putin and Sochi Olympics (he helped with Russia’s bidding for Sochi) And do you think Russia/Japan really wanted to let go of anonymous judging when the system allowed them to get away with countless instances of favoritism and bias in the judging? They (ISU & Russia) are aware of the fierce controversy after Sochi and this was their way out… TO LOOK LIKE THEY WERE NOT CORRUPT when they took every bit of advantage from anonymous judging until now. Oh and what about the fact that this particular vote result was tweeted for all to see? Is this even possible? In common sense, you would expect that the privacy / anonymity of the voters in a exclusive meeting would be respected. It’s like they want people to see who voted for what. And apparently, through all this mayhem, they succeeded in two aspects – they made KSU look like the axis of evil who are irrationally crying foul and managed to make things look good for themselves. Two, they still got what they wanted – anonymous judging. So they masterminded this whole thing, which I find extremely conniving – even beyond work of con art. And it’s their duplicity that angers me, more so than the dismissal of the request to have anonymous judging abolished. The system can’t always be perfect. No matter what judging system ISU brings in, if the judges don’t change, if the PEOPLE of ISU don’t change, it will be meaningless.

    • More than sorry to read the article above, which made me very ashamed beeing a swede, of an elderly point of view, we all have seen the catastrofical item by secret judging- i rather call it figureskatings Klu Klux Klan,- these judges that approve to secret judging of today doesnt only kill the wonderful sport of figureskating , they as well kill a lot of young skaters, because even the young ones have ability to see what is going on- politics at this level, by buying and selling efforts, does not make further success to our beloved sport and do not teach our youngsters the main thing fair play. But there is a solution, let us dress our judges in dresses like armed knights so they can fell down their bars while judging to not be recognized or maybe we must resuscirecall the old fashion ISU regulation FROM THE EARLY REGULATIONS WHEN THE ladies was allowed to enter the ice in competition,early 1900ths
      from the time when ISU was born and the Ladies as allowed to enter the ice alone while compiting and all male judges must where yellow big goggles in order to not get exciated by the female beauty- or else must all put an end to the ISU habit to dominate by turn down and destroy. Brought up in a family of international skating that divided in 3 have been present for more than 156 years I believe that figureskating must all over the world get rid of the burglery that destroys our sport. I AM SURE THAT ALL OLD HONORABLE JUDGED LIKE Mr Dedic, Mr TERTAK, and COACHES, LIKE Jack and ARNOLD GERCHWILER, , Mr ZELLER, Bror Mayer and all others turns in their graves By looking at todays disaster of figureskating/ Thanks heaven, we still have members among us like our Dear Sonia, Dear Mr. Botton and all others that have had knowledge and our brave enough to stand like statues of Liberty and wisdom when the call winds of figureskating are blowing in different decades/

      Jane Gustavsson Lago- , Editor PERUITT

  2. Dear Ms.Bev Smith..Just to inform you, one can find out who the judges(where and what country) by just looking up in the ISU List there these judges are from .Also after every event the judges meet with the referee and the referee goes over all markings and if a judge is out of line, they must explain why. The Assessment team also marks each skater and their placements in singles/pairs/dance at every In’tl competition and this Assessment team does go over all marks and will place a judgement against any judge who placement was off. This is a seperate panel of 2 persons that evaluates/judges each and every event..they sit away from the official panel.
    I was also hoping the Anonymous judging would be voted out and sorry that it did not work..hopefully next time it will pass. I would like to know the reason why they have this ruling..
    Thank you, Joan Burns

    • The problem is not in knowing how all judges are, as listed in the ISU communications (which I know about). The problem is in knowing which marks belong to which judges during an event. We knew this in Salt Lake City, under the old system, for example..

      • Yes, very much so. Anonymous judging protects the judges from being pinpointed when they are allegedly accused of any wrongdoings – since they don’t make the records of which judges gave out which set of marks public…

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