Does the new proposed judging system of the international skating union improve fairness in judging?

Por: Danny Rosenberg e Kelly Lockwood.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Two days after the figure skating scandal broke at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, the president of the International Skating Union (ISU), Ottavio Cinquanta, admitted at a news conference that there was greater motivation to improve the system of judging in figure skating. Past problems in figure skating judging plus the outcry surrounding this recent event provided the catalyst to immediately act on Cinquanta’s remarks. The ISU implemented a new proposed judging system at a number of elite competitions in 2003 with mixed reviews. If given final approval in June 2004, the system will be used at all sanctioned ISU events and the Olympic Winter Games in the future. It is anticipated that the proposed system will have significant and far-reaching consequences for the integrity of figure skating and its reception as a fair and honest public athletic event.
This proposed presentation will contain three sections. First it will briefly outline the major features of the new ISU judging system. For example, secret judging and the random selection of judges, the reliance on computer technology, a new official called a technical specialist, the point system of judging for each element, the awarding of points for failed elements, and the assessment and weighing of jumps, combinations and sequences will be described. The strategy implications for choreographers, coaches and skaters in light of the new judging system will also be discussed.
The second section will consider the nature of judging in sport, what constitutes fairness in judging, and the unique characteristics of judging in figure skating. Russell (1997) has examined umpiring in baseball based on philosophy of law definitions and principles. For example, judgments by umpires render "verdicts" in one sense by virtue of having the final word, but their decisions are also descriptions of observable events that can be shown to be right or wrong. Corrupt or incompetent officials relinquish or diminish their authority on both these counts and as a result their rulings can be dismissed and invalidated. In a subsequent article, Russell (1999) lays the foundation of fairness in judging by proposing that officials not only make use of game rules when making calls, but should rely on defensible principles related to the nature and purpose of sport. For example, rules should be interpreted in such a way that preserves the obstacles or inefficiencies toward achieving the goal of games and allows for the flourishing of skills and displays of excellence. Following Russell, Dixon (2003) has analyzed judging in figure skating. He shows that technical and aesthetic judgments in figure skating pose greater difficulties in finding errors because in both cases subjective and evaluative elements prevail. Moreover, unlike other sports, once performances are completed, figure skaters do not have the opportunity to alter judges’ errors. When a sport depends heavily on the discretion of judges, the chances of unjust results increase whether the judges are corrupt or incompetent. The recent Salt Lake City figure skating debacle again demonstrated this inherent weakness.
The final section will argue that the new ISU judging system does not make significant improvements when it comes to fairness in judging. The system continues to sustain the anonymity of judges, lacks sufficient transparency, and does not adequately hold judges accountable for their overall judgments. The ultimate discretion of the judges remains, leaving open the possibility for corruption or incompetence. With every element under scrutiny under a technologically-driven, complex and unwarranted point system, technical merit is too highly regulated and may still be prone to failure and abuse. Finally, the new judging system will alter the fundamental character of figure skating as skaters manipulate their performances to meet the new judging requirements, rather than develop their skills and excellences toward the values and purposes of the sport.


[1]. Dixon, N. (2003). Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, XXX, 103-116.
[2]. Russell, J. S. (1997). Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, XXIV, 21-37.
[3]. Russell, J. S. (1999). Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, XXVI, 27-49.





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