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ISU Responds to French Proposals for Championships Qualifications

by George Rossano

(6 September 2012)  In a letter to ISU members and the council dated August 23, 2012, French Federation president Didier Gailhaguet raised the issue of the appropriate minimum TES scores, their impact on the size of upcoming championships, and put forward a concept that would involve returning to a qualifying-round-type format at ISU championships.  In the following e-mail sent to Gailhaguet and the ISU members and council, ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta has responded.  In this letter he provides a brief history of how the championships format to be used in 2013 came to be and defends the importance of having only "athletes of adequate standard quality" taking part "in the most important events."

To: FFSG, Mr. Didier Gailhaguet, President
From: ISU, Ottavio Cinquanta, President
Copy: Recipients of August 23, 2012 letter
Date: September 5, 2012

Dear Didier,

You point out in your letter that "this non-inclusion of participants from all countries will have a knock-on effect within each ISU member-country in terms of recognition of their representatives and indeed of their financial status" and also that "the ISU is however right to loudly state that these Championships must be intended for the elite competitors and that not all skaters around the world can expect to compete at a World Championships where the universal nature of our practices is constantly evolving and the number of member-countries is constantly rising."

As a matter of fact all sport entities worldwide select their athletes when an adequate standard quality exists. The 2010 Congress decided to introduce Preliminary Rounds (see Rules 137,10 and 378). The term "Preliminary Rounds" (not "Qualifying Rounds") was chosen for exactly the concern of recognition mentioned by you. The term "Semi-Final" as proposed by you might also have been considered, but would not make any substantial difference to "Preliminary Rounds".

The 2010 Barcelona decision was a compromise to reconcile the above-mentioned dilemma. Thanks to this compromise, all Members had the possibility to participate in the Championships through the Preliminary Rounds (the results of which are included in the Protocol of the Championships) while the financial burden of the Championships was limited, since these Preliminary Rounds were at the charge of the participating Members.

Through its proposal in the 2012 Congress Agenda, the Council proposed to continue with the existing solution, giving also time until the next Congress to find another, possibly better solution. There was no other specific alternative proposal on the 2012 Congress Agenda. The Council and other Members clearly and repeatedly informed the 2012 Congress delegates that if the continuation of the Preliminary Rounds would not be accepted, then the Council, under the current Rules, had no other choice than to use the Minimum Total Technical Scores in order to achieve a solution that would allow a wise/regular conduct of the Championships as per the objectives later stated in detail in ISU Communication 1742, point 7.

As you know, the Figure Skating Branch of the 2012 Congress voted against the continuation of the Preliminary Rounds. It is therefore not possible to ignore this Congress decision and any new solution would be subject to a new Congress vote based on a specific and detailed proposal included in the Congress Agenda (see Article 29/2.c) of the ISU Constitution).  We would therefore invite you to present your detailed proposal for inclusion in the next Congress Agenda. All financial aspects must also be considered in such proposal and in particular who sustains the charges.

In the meantime, referring to the applicable Minimum Total Technical Scores, we would like to emphasize that the Minimum Total Technical Scores listed in ISU Communication 1742 were determined based on the input of all competent ISU bodies, i.e. the Technical Committees, the Sports Directorate and the Council and not only the Sports Director as you state in your letter.

Furthermore, we reiterate what stated in ISU Communication 1742, point 7, namely "However, if it became evident that the number of entries based on the Minimum Total Technical Scores listed below would be significantly higher or lower than expected, the ISU Council reserves the right to subsequently slightly re-adjust the Minimum Total Technical Scores in order to achieve the above-mentioned objective". As the season progresses, the Council in cooperation with the Technical Committees and the Sports Directorate will regularly monitor the situation and, if necessary and as far as possible, make the relevant adjustments in due time.

Last, but not least, let's give a look at what happens in the other sport federations, as well as in the IOC. You perfectly know that only athletes of adequate standard quality can take part in the most important events, mentioning the Olympic Games as first example; how could the ISU explain to the IOC such a change of approach, i.e. to have any athlete taking part in its Championships, without any prior selection? The final result in any sport also comes from a kind of "selection".

Not to add that we must also be practical, and to host and judge hundreds of athletes would be reasonably impossible from many perspectives: financial, physical and logistical. Hence the Council decision published in Communication 1742, para 7. The Council itself will of course pay the highest attention to what Mr Chait, President of the Israel Ice Skating Federation, has proposed in his letter.

In conclusion, I have a last question on my part, since I am not sure I have properly understood: do you still propose to have semi-finals/preliminaries/qualifications? If yes, would you include a selection system?

Awaiting your answer, with best regards,

Ottavio Cinquanta
International Skating Union

Our Thoughts

Having been to every World Championship since 1987 and seen the many changes to the format of the championships, as well as the growth in the number of entrants, we find ourselves in the rare position of being in nearly complete agreement with president Cinquanta.  Entry to the championships should depend on more than simply being the only skater from your country regardless of skill level.

We understand that the prestige of being able to enter a competitor in the World Championships is important to many ISU members, and that in some cases government funding depends on participation in international events.  But allowing entries who do not meet a minimum skill level only degrades the prestige of the championships.  With 50 to 60 entrants in recent championships, the quality of the lowest skill skaters has sometimes been painful to watch, and as Cinquanta rightly points out, the problems of conducting an event with so many entries is excessively burdensome in many respects.

We are also glad to see reiterated the commitment to adjust the minimum TES scores if needed during the season, but this approach to controlling the number of entries still gives us some pause.

If the minimum TES scores have been set too high, then lowering them will afford additional skaters opportunity to compete at Worlds, though how one tunes this in a fair way to get the right number as the season progresses is not obvious.

On the other hand, should the minimum TES scores have been set too low and need to be raised mid-season to trim the size of the championships, what of the skaters who thought they had qualified but at the last minute find out they have not?  Is this fair?  What of the skaters who have met the minimum score and have no further competitions scheduled before the championships, by choice or by circumstances, who finds out they no longer meet requirements and have no opportunity left to requalify?  This is a brutal brutal process.  It is like the airlines overbooking a flight, but if too many people show up, instead of putting the passengers on the next flight, the ISU is simply going to tell the extra skaters to unpack their bags because they aren't going anywhere at all.

If the ISU guesses too low on the minimum TES score, fairness and decency to the skaters should require the ISU to accept the consequences and impact on the competition schedule, and deal with number of entries their guess produces.

Copyright 2012 by George S. Rossano