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Friday, May 2, 2014

Sochi Figure Skating Scandal: Worldwide Figure Skating Fans' Letter to International Sports Journalists and Figure Skating Insiders


The following letter was written by the Korean figure skating fans and the Golden Yuna Face Book group members worldwide, in hopes that the “Sochi judging scandal” will be resolved as soon as possible and that the rest of the world will empathize with them.  With the opening of a website for the figure skating fans worldwide (www.sochiscandal.com), united to seek resolution to the “Sochi judging scandal,” they will participate more actively in this movement.
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As you may already know, on April 10, 2014, the Korean Skating Union (KSU) at last filed the official complaint with the International Skating Union (ISU) over the judging of the ladies’ figure skating competitions at the Sochi Olympics.  Alexander Gorshkov, the president of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, reportedly said in his interview with Sovsport that he didn't see any violation in the makeup of the judging panel for the womens figure skating event in Sochi. (http://www.sovsport.ru/sochi/texts/text-item/703846).  Contrary to what Mr. Gorshkov said in the interview, a common sentiment among Korean figure skating fans is that the complaint filed by the KSU is quite belated and the KSU did what they should have done earlier.  Fans are, in fact, expressing strong doubts over the facts that (i) the KSU didnt “protest” right away after the ladiesfigure skating event ended at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and (ii) the KSU waited until the last minute to “complain” even after they had announced their plan, on March 21, 2014, to do so. 

As we all know, something happened in Sochi that can be considered cheating and an offense against the spirit of sportsmanship and against common sense.  For the past few years, figure skating fans have witnessed the bizarre and odd cases in which (i) the skaters from the host countries have often received unreasonably high scores, (ii) the judges have gifted many of the skaters with undeservedly high scores in the Olympic Games, and (iii) some specific skaters from major figure skating powers have received favoritism from the judges. 
Nevertheless, we have overlooked such phenomena as the results and standings were not too off the charts to be considered erratic or abnormal.  Sochi judging in the ladies’ figure skating event, however, crossed the line in the sand we the figure skating fans had drawn.  We can’t agree with the Sochi technical panel officials on their calls on some specific skaters and also with the Sochi judging panel officials on their GOE marks for some specific skaters.  We don’t agree that some specific skaters were fairly judged in terms of the finesse/perfectness of execution, speed, precision (the precise control of edges), upper body movement, step sequences (turns and steps) and  levels of difficulty, overall skating skills, choreography, program component, etc. 

Most of the long-time figure skating fans could never agree with the Sochi results and that’s why it’s being called the“Sochi scandal”. There’s one reason that explains this: “Unfair judging.”  Some analysts insist Adelina Sotnikova earned the gold medal by doing 7 triple jumps, one triple jump more than Yuna Kim; her FS was more difficult than Kim’s as its total base value was higher.  Such explanations, however, have overlooked the fact that Kim’s base value for the jump elements in her short program (SP) was in fact 1.90 points “higher” than Sotnikova’s and her total base value for the jump elements was just 1.44 points lower than Sotnikova’s.  Why have they never applied the same logic to Kim’s SP and questioned its outcome?  How come Kim was ahead of Sotnikova by only a margin of 0.28 points when her base value for the jump elements was 1.90 points higher?  The defenders of Sotnikova’s gold medal must account for this contradiction between the SP outcome and the FS outcome.  And as you all know, a base value doesn’t necessarily mean the actual score.  No matter how well the program is composed of more elements with higher base scores, it’s meaningless if the elements are not executed as planned.   In order to earn the actual score, a skater must perform the planned elements and get them ratified.  If she fails, she will receive less points than her proposed base values.

According to the statistical analysis by Professor Tiziano Virgili, an Italian physicist, “The statistical analysis of the Sochi Ladies Figure Skating results has shown the presence of systematic bias in the scores, in both Technical Elements and Program Components.  The largest bias was assigned in both cases to the first skater (Adelina Sotnikova), and this probably explains the “uproar” which has followed the end of the competition.” (Please refer to his analysis for more details.  It’s a must-read.)

Yet, the KSU chose to file a complaint over the makeup of the judging panel for the ladies’ figure skating event in Sochi only. The complaint is based on ISU regulations that state that a person who may reasonably appear to be in a conflict of interest position regarding a competing skater, ineligible person or remunerated coach is not permitted to serve as an official of the competition in which such skater is entered (Rule 121 of the ISU Constitution and General Regulations).  In Sochi, however, (i) such officials apparently in a conflict of interest position were approved to serve on the technical and judging panels and (ii) those officials showed obvious favoritism towards two specific skaters, which was suspicious enough to be considered “fixing.”

We know that “protests concerning the composition of the panel of officials must be filed within one hour of its announcement” (Rule 123 (3b) of the ISU Constitution and General Regulations).  Who, however, could have thought that they would do what they really did in Sochi?  That said, we strongly believe we need to primarily call the ISU to account for approving such individuals apparently in a conflict of interest position for the technical and judging panels, before blaming Korea for delayed response to the Sochi judging.

In an exclusive phone interview with Chicago Tribune’s Philip Hersh (2/21/2014), Ottavio Cinquanta said, “Would you rather have an idiot acting as a judge than a good one who is a relative of the manager of a federation?  It is far more important to have a good judge than a possible conflict of interest."   In other words, Cinquanta praised ISU officials like Alla Shekhovtseva, Alexander Lakernik, and Olga Baranova, who have conflicts of interest regarding competing skaters (Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaya), as well as Yuri Balkov who was suspended for foul play, for being good judges.  At the same time, he disparaged another ISU official as “an idiot acting as a judge” and made statements which completely disregarded the ISU rules and regulations themselves.  Such statements are practically the same as acknowledging that he approved and/or assigned such individuals in a conflict of interest position regarding two competing skaters for the Sochi technical and judging panel.  In fact, a majority of Sochi officials were selected against the ISU General Regulation Rule 121 and Code of Ethics Article (h) and (i), violating the Conflict of Interest Statues.

Let’s first look at the ISU Rule 121(j) of the ISU Constitution and General Regulations:

j) Personal, Commercial and Family Relationships
i) The ISU Code of Ethics, including but not limited to its conflict of interest” provisions, is applicable to appointed ISU Officials and other participants as stated in ISU Code of Ethics;
ii) Without detracting from the broad and personal applicability of the Code of Ethics, the following examples are presented for guidance:
1. At an ISU Event or the Olympic Winter Games or the Winter Youth Olympic Games Office Holders, elected or appointed, shall not act as members of any national team,
or act as team leaders, assistant team leaders, chaperons, team doctors or team coaches, or wear national team uniforms (except Coaches serving on an ISU Technical Committee, may coach individually their students who are entered in an ISU Event or an international competition).
2. For the Figure Skating Branch only, ISU Officials (Referees, Judges, Technical Controllers, Technical Specialists, etc.), when at an ISU Event or the Olympic Winter Games or the Winter Youth Olympic Games where they are not serving as an ISU Official, may act as a member of a national team, team leader, assistant team leader, chaperon, team doctor or team coach, and may wear national team uniforms.
3. At an ISU Event or the Olympic Winter Games or the Winter Youth Olympic Games, a person of the family of a competing Skater is not permitted to serve as an Official of the competition in which such Skater is entered, but such person may serve at other competitions of such ISU Event or the Olympic Winter Games or the Winter Youth Olympic Games unless such service may reasonably appear to be a conflict of interest.
4. At an ISU Event or the Olympic Winter Games or the Winter Youth Olympic Games, a person of the family of an ineligible person, or of the family of a remunerated Coach, is not permitted to serve as an Official of the competition in which a competing pupil of the ineligible person or remunerated Coach is entered, but such person may serve at other competitions of such ISU Event or the Olympic Winter Games or the Winter Youth Olympic Games unless such service may reasonably appear to be a conflict of interest.
5. The term ”family” as used in this Rule shall be understood as including all persons who, due to their relationships, may reasonably appear to be in a conflict of interest position regarding a competing Skater, ineligible person or remunerated Coach.
6. For purposes of staffing at an event, the Referee(s) shall decide any issues raised at the event concerning conflicts of interest or other matters involving the applicability of the ISU Code of Ethics to assigned ISU Officials.

According to the rule 121(j) above, a person who may reasonably appear to be in a conflict of interest position regarding a competing skater is not permitted to serve as an official of any ISU competition. 

(1)  In Sochi, however, one of the nine members of the judging panel was Alla Shekhovtseva, who is the wife of Valentin Piseev, the president and general director of the Russian Skating Federation, and who hugged Adelina Sotnikova, a compatriot she had just judged, just minutes after the Sochi ladies’ figure skating event ended.  Surprisingly, she was “randomly” selected to serve on the judging panel for “five” consecutive ISU competitions held in 2013 in all of which Sotnikova competed.  Professor Virgili’s statistical answer to these obviously abnormal drawing results are as follows.  (Refer to Virgili’s email correspondence.)

According to the ISU rules, the Organizing Committee should select one (and not more than one) judge for each country, from the official lists. So what matter here is the number N of Russian Judges who are in the list.

For a random draw, for each competition the probability to select a special Judge is just the ratio 1/N, in our case 1/10 (considering the 10 ISU Judges).  For more competitions, the probability to extract always the same Judge is the product of the probabilities (independent draws). For 5/5 competitions this probability is 1/100000. (1/10 x 1/10 x 1/10 x 1/10 x 1/10 =1/100000) Clearly the fact that the same Judge was always present in 5/5 competitions is not compatible with a random draw.

In other words, the fact that Alla Shekhovtseva was selected to serve on the judging panel for “five” consecutive ISU competitions held in 2013 in all of which Sotnikova competed is not compatible with a random draw.

In addition, Yuri Balkov of Ukraine was also one of the nine members of the judging panel. At the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, Balkov was taped by the Canadian judge Jean Senft explaining what order the competitors would finish in the ice-dancing competition before it took place.   He was suspended for one year.

(2)  The three members of the technical panel have much greater effect on the scores than the nine members of the judging panel have as they are the ones who determine if such violations as under-rotation on takeoff, under-rotation on landing, or wrong-edge on takeoff have occurred and accordingly apply under-rated , downgraded, or wrong-edge takeoff jump deductions.  In effect, this means they can always fix the competition if they want to, need to, or have to.  In Sochi, Alexander Lakernik of Russia was the technical controller, head of the three-member technical panel.  He has served as the vice president of the Russian figure skating federation.   Olga Baranova, the assistant technical specialist, is a naturalized Finland citizen, born in Russia, and was under the tutelage of Viktor Kudriavtsev, a Russian figure skating coach and choreographer who works with many members of the Russian figure skating team as a consultant. 

Now, let’s take a look at the ISU Special Regulations and Technical Rules: Rule 430 (3-5) that stipulates the duties and powers of the technical panel.

3. Duties and powers of the Technical Controller

–authorizes or corrects the deletion of elements;
–supervises the Technical Specialists and Data Operator and proposes corrections, if necessary, respecting any performed element and Level of Difficulty identified by the serving Technical Specialist and Assistant Technical Specialist. However, if both Technical Specialists disagree with a correction asked for by the Technical Controller, the initial decision of the Technical Specialist and Assistant Technical Specialist stands. In the case a disagreement about an element and/or Level of Difficulty exists between the Technical Specialist and Assistant Technical Specialist, the decision of the Technical Controller prevails;  The Technical Controller is responsible to verify that the performed elements and Levels of Difficulty identified in accordance with the above-mentioned procedure are correctly introduced into the system by the Data Operator and the performed elements and Levels of Difficulty may be validated only upon formal confirmation by the Technical Controller that such verification has been completed;
–authorizes or corrects the identification of Illegal Elements/Movements;
–authorizes or corrects the identification of a fall, which occurred in any part of the program, including introductory and concluding steps/movements in Pattern Dance (does not apply to Pattern Dance Elements). However if both Technical Specialists disagree with a correction on Illegal Elements/Movements or falls asked for by the Technical Controller, the initial decision of the Technical Specialist and Assistant Technical Specialist stands;
–moderates the Round Table Discussion together with the Referee according to ISU guidelines (see Rule 432);
–prepares the Report on the event according to ISU guidelines (see Rule 433);
–participates in the victory ceremony

4.Duties of the Technical Specialist/Assistant Technical Specialist

The Technical Specialist
–identifies and calls the performed elements;
–identifies and calls correct Levels of Difficulty of the performed elements;
–identifies Illegal Elements/Movements;
–identifies a fall, which occurred in any part of the program, including introductory and concluding steps/movements in Pattern Dance;
–identifies and deletes additional elements.

The Assistant Technical Specialist is also part of the decision making process as outlined under the duties of the Technical Controller.

5. Duties of the Data & Replay Operator

The Data Operator
–inputs the called elements;
–inputs the Levels of Difficulty of the elements as called;
–corrects elements or Levels of Difficulty as instructed by the Technical Controller;
–indicates additional elements identified by the computer to the Technical Specialists and to the Technical Controller.

The Replay Operator
–records each element separately to enable the Technical Panel, the Referee and the Judges to review the element when necessary

The Data & Replay Operators
–support the Technical Specialists and the Technical Controller;
–attend the meeting of the Technical Specialists before each portion/segment of the discipline

In short, in every ISU competition, the technical panel determines if such violations as under-rotation on takeoff, under-rotation on landing, or wrong-edge on takeoff have occurred and accordingly applies underrated, downgraded, or wrong-edge takeoff jump deductions. The technical controller has the duty and power to make a decision in case a disagreement about an element and/or level of difficulty exists between the technical specialist and the assistant technical specialist.  In other words, it's not too much to say that it’s the technical controller who determines if all the planned elements are accurately and properly executed and determines the levels of difficulty for the different elements executed.  At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Russia’s Alexander Lakernik served this crucial/critical role of a technical controller.  (This explains why Sotnikova’s flutz was fully ratified and her juniorish steps and spins earned the maximum Level 4's.  It's in fact really surprising that she was the only skater in this event who received Level 4's on step sequences and spins both in SP and free skate (FS).) 

At the 2014 World Championships recently held in Japan, Cinquanta said, according to Reuters, “We are not perfect, as also the skaters are not perfect.  Sometimes, they (judges) do a mistake. Mistakes are possible, because we are human beings.” (Link)  Yes, we all think Cinquanta is right on the money and that’s why an instantaneous slow-motion video replay system is operated by a replay operator to ensure the accuracy of judging because we all know with more accurate calls come more legitimate outcomes in competitions. In Sochi, Russia’s Alexander Kuznetsov served the role of a replay operator.  Kuznetsov was one of the Russian officials who expressed frustration the 2002 Salt Lake pairs’ results.

Again, the ISU officials can make mistakes because they are human beings.  To prevent possible mistakes or errors from happening, therefore, they are systematically supported and assisted by a data/replay operator as well as a referee who’s responsible for running the competition.   That being the case, was it just a human mistake or a dereliction of duty that Switzerland’s Diana Barbacci Levy, the Sochi referee, failed to run the competition flawlessly by failing to order the technical controller, the technical specialist, and the assistant technical specialist to be assisted and supported by the data/replay operator? 

If Cinquanta’s statement at the 2014 Worlds had aimed at the “Sochi scandal,” such perspectives should be seriously questioned.   How can he ever explain the fact that the ISU officials showed the greatest systematic favoritism towards only two skaters from the host country despite their obvious mistakes?  It's common sense that there's always home ice advantage and we’re not trying to deny it.  Yet, the Sochi judging clearly crossed the line and went too far. 
 
(3)  According to Rule 401 and 402 of the ISU Special Regulations and Technical Rules, the members of the technical panel for the single & pair skating as well as ice dance events of the Olympic Winter Games, and any Qualifying Competition for the Olympic Winter Games shall be appointed by the ISU and the members of the judging panel shall be drawn from the ISU member countries which have skaters qualified for the Olympic Winter Games according to the results of the World Championships of the preceding year in the discipline concerned.  All drawn 13 judges for each discipline will be on site at the Olympic Winter Games location where all consequent draws to complete panel of 9 Judges for each segment of the respective discipline will be conducted by the referee. 

Prior to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, 13 judges for the ladies’ event had been already drawn from the 20 ISU member countries which have skaters qualified for the Games according to the results of the 2013 World Championships (13/20).  At the Olympics, the “random” selection of the 9 judges for the ladies’ SP was conducted by the referee, Diana Barbacci Levy of Switzerland.  Then 4 judges from the United States, Great Britain, Sweden and South Korea who judged the SP was “randomly” excluded and the 9 judges for the ladies’ FS included judges from four former Soviet bloc nations (Russia, Ukraine, Estonia and Slovakia) as well as France.  Consequently, the 7/9 of the judging panel was all from Europe. The rest two were respectively from Canada and Japan, which is not particularly Korean-friendly.   Some may think it was coincidental while others may think otherwise.  

For your information, please watch this video (with English subtitles) in which Korean Olympic speed skaters, silver medalists in Team Pursuit at the 2014 Winter Olympics, reveal what happened at the tournament draws done for quarter finals in Sochi.  If what these Korean speed skaters said on the show is not an exaggeration but a truth, and if the same or similar thing had happened during the selection/exclusion of the judges for the ladies’ SP and FS, how much was the referee, Diana Barbacci Levy of Switzerland, responsible for that?  Was it just a human mistake, a dereliction of duty, or something else? 




(4According to Article 22 of the ISU Constitution and General Regulations, an Officials’ Assessment Commission (OAC) shall evaluate

1) evident anomalies in the Judges scores identified based on a predetermined criteria, including mathematical criteria, confirmed by the Council, and
2) decisions taken by the Technical Panel.

Therefore, we strongly believe that the OAC must re-evaluate the judging procedure/process, content, and results of the ladies’ SP and FS in Sochi.  We also believe that if it’s the long-established habits or traditions of the ISU collectively that they follow the rules beneficial only to a select few, disregarding other rules, then such bad habits or traditions must be repealed or replaced with good ones.
 
 (5Now, there is one last thing about those troubling and incomprehensible acts done by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  They fabricated the quotes from Yuna Kim as if she was admitting Sotnikova deservedly had won gold over her and humbly accepting her defeat.  Then the quotes were confirmed to be a total blunder.   The IOC stealthily removed them off its official site when, as a matter of fact, they owe more than just a formal correction or an official explanation.  Then they put up a video of highlights from the Sochi ladies' SP on their official Youtube channel in which a commentator identifies Kim’s second jump in her signature triple lutz-triple toe loop jump combination as a “double” toe loop.  Ever since, there have been many  correction requests from figure skating fans but the IOC wouldn’t budge an inch.  

Please don’t forget the French newspaper L’Equipe report on the U.S.-Russia conspiracy to fix figure skating competitions at the 2014 Olympics (2/9/2014).  The report was based on an anonymous source – a Russian coach – and mentioned that the U.S. would help Russia win gold in the pairs and team competition and Russia would help U.S. win gold in ice dancing.  Of course, the U.S. Figure Skating Association immediately denied the report.

Korean figure skating fans are sincerely asking ISU to thoroughly examine (i) the selection procedures of the controversial technical/judging panels for the ladies’ figure skating event (SP and FS) at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and (ii) its questionable outcome (SP and FS) which is fishy enough for many fans and insiders around the world to suspect “fixing” and to make a reasonable assessment and decision over the case that anyone can accept without a doubt.   In fact, the anonymous judging installed by the ISU after the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics can never provide ways to evaluate the controversial cases in which an anonymous judge or anonymous judges gave a specific skater exceptionally high scores “out of the blue.”  Furthermore, Rule 123 (4Ai) of the ISU Constitution and General Regulations stipulates, “No protests against evaluations by referees, judges and the technical panel of the skaters’ performances are allowed.”  As Yuna Kim was an unquestionable victim of such loopholes in the current ISU judging system, we urge the ISU to take steps/actions immediately to redress the colossal injustice done to her.   We believe that it’s the one and only true way for the current ISU judging system to get back on the right path and correct its deviation.
 
We understand that its natural to think that Korean fans are furious with Sochi judges over Yuna Kims silver medal because shes Korean.   Of course, its true; its something we cant deny.   We hope that Yuna Kim will also be awarded her very deserved gold medal in the end.  At the same time, however, our love for Kim is one thing, but our pursuit of sports justice is another.  We are protesting against the Sochi judging and its results and asking for the correction of the “mistakes” made in Sochi, driven by the same motivation and reasons as other figure skating fans around the world.  We hope that figure skating won’t eventually be monopolized by a select few after getting the cold shoulder from its fans and that the sport will maintain its beauty of perfect balance between technical excellence  and artistic elegance and splendor.  We hope that the Olympic Games, a global sports festival, will restore its tarnished honor and the spirit of true sportsmanship so visibly damaged by the “Sochi scandal.”  We hope that the Olympic and sport movement (i.e., the IOC and the ISU) won’t turn their back on “justice,” one of the long-cherished ideals of mankind and that they will turn over a new leaf to epitomize humanity.

We want both the ISU and the IOC to show the true meaning of Olympic spirit, especially fair judging in this case, while handling the complaint filed by the KSU.  We hope to see fair judging in every individual competition so that athletes are rewarded for their years of hard work and, of course, for their excellence.   We hope athletes are treated and judged equally and fairly regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, race, or any other characteristic.

If the IOC and the ISU sweep this scandal under the rug, then no one will dare to say sport is “fair” but we are afraid that they will.  Therefore, we strongly ask them to correct the scandalous Sochi judging and its results so that we can remain loyal to sports as well as figure skating.   

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