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Skating Rebellion Underway

Times Staff Writer

Condemning reforms intended to restore figure skating’s integrity as more conducive to sustaining corruption, a splinter group of officials, coaches and former skaters on Tuesday announced the formation of a federation that will seek to supplant the International Skating Union as the sport’s global governing body.

The World Skating Federation vowed to put skaters first, guarantee unbiased judging under the familiar 6.0-based scoring system, and ensure judging panels are geographically balanced and held accountable. Those conditions do not exist and would not result from sweeping changes backed by ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta, WSF founders said at a news conference.

“I am here to tell you this emperor, the ISU, has no clothes,” said Ron Pfenning, who refereed the scandal-ridden pairs event at the Salt Lake City Olympics and last week resigned as referee of the men’s competition at the World Championships after rejecting new ISU event-review procedures.

“The sport of figure skating deserves better and it needs it now. If this does not happen soon, there will be nothing left of the sport.”

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The ISU is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the governing body for figure skating and speedskating. Such conflicting responsibilities, WSF backers said, hurt figure skaters and the sport. Cinquanta is a former speedskater who has stirred controversy within figure skating circles by advocating anonymity for judges and, eventually, a computer-reliant scoring system that would compile cumulative scores based on a scale of values for jumps and spins.

The ISU gets about $20 million a year from ABC in a TV rights deal that expires next year. Its power is enhanced by the popularity of figure skating, traditionally the showcase sport at the Winter Olympics. The WSF has about $200,000 of its hoped-for $1 million operating budget, mostly small donations from individuals.

“We’re facing mammoth odds. It’s David trying to kill Goliath,” said Sally Stapleford, a British judge and longtime ISU official unseated as head of the powerful technical committee during the ISU Congress last June. “But it’s no use sitting on our backsides and moaning and groaning. If it doesn’t work, at least we’ve given it a shot.” IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said her organization had received no documents from the WSF by the close of business Tuesday. “The IOC recognizes only one international federation for each sport, and that federation is the ISU. It’s inappropriate to speculate beyond that,” she said from Lausanne, Switzerland.

She also said she doesn’t know if IOC President Jacques Rogge, who was traveling Tuesday, will accept an invitation to meet from Pfenning.

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ISU spokesman Rowland Jack said Cinquanta would not respond to the WSF. “We’re here for the championships, so we’re not going to comment out of respect for the skaters, coaches and ISU members,” Jack said.

Olympic gold medalists Scott Hamilton, Paul Wylie and Dick Button were among the panelists Tuesday. Wylie introduced video clips in which two-time gold medalist Katarina Witt, pairs champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and Olympians Kurt Browning and Todd Eldredge endorsed the WSF’s aims.

Most participants are from the U.S. or work here. However, longtime ISU judge and official Sonia Bianchetti of Italy is the WSF’s vice president, and Britta Lindgren of Sweden, Judit Furst-Tombor of Hungary, and Donald McKnight of Australia -- a former competitor and judge -- were also present. No Russians participated.

Nor did any federation endorse the group, despite an assertion by Jon Jackson, chairman of the U.S. Figure Skating Assn.'s executive committee, that the USFSA “will issue a statement endorsing us in principle.” Instead, the USFSA said in a statement that it hadn’t seen the WSF’s proposals and “as such it would be inaccurate and untrue for anyone to suggest that the USFSA leadership has endorsed the proposed new entity.”

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Pam Coburn of Skate Canada said her organization “will look at anything,” but didn’t endorse the WSF.

Hamilton said the WSF, unlike the ISU, would give more representation to skaters and coaches in deciding its rules.

“I just really am frightened about where this sport is right now,” said Hamilton, who said he paid his way to speak Tuesday. “The new scoring system is garbage. It has nothing to do with anything but one man’s ego. I want a system that’s fair and honest and the skaters would know whatever they do on the ice would be rewarded....

“I would think [Rogge] would look at this seriously and would give it consideration. The premier sport at the Winter Olympic Games needs to have integrity, equality and accountability. Right now it’s smoke and mirrors.”

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