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Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Splinter group to challenge union's rule

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Scott Hamilton, Dick Button and other prominent names in figure skating are challenging the role of the International Skating Union as the sport's governing body.

Unhappy with ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta and his organization, the newly formed World Skating Federation has contacted International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, asking for a meeting.

"An environment has been created where there are no ethical constraints on corruption,'' Ron Pfenning, a top judge who is acting president of the WSF, said Tuesday.

But the IOC, of which Cinquanta is a council member, said it has no plans to meet with WSF executives.

"The IOC recognizes one international federation for each sport and, as far as skating is concerned, it is the ISU,'' IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said. "There is no plan to change anything. It's not on the agenda at all to change things.''

IOC recognition, however, will be critical in the WSF's quest to remove the ISU as the governing body for figure skating.

"I would hope whatever position Ottavio holds on the IOC would not sway Mr. Rogge in looking at this,'' said Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champion and a leading voice in the sport. "The IOC's endorsement is gigantic.''

The U.S. Figure Skating Association said in a release it "has had neither the time nor the opportunity to review the proposals offered by those seeking to create a new world figure skating body. As such, it would be inaccurate and untrue for anyone to suggest that the USFSA leadership has endorsed the proposed new entity.''

The WSF would be involved only with figure skating; the ISU also oversees speedskating. Cinquanta is a former speedskater.

"There is no vision in this sport at this moment,'' said Button, a two-time Olympic champion and one of the sport's leading producers and commentators. "The ISU has put a clean shirt over dirty laundry.''

Cinquanta would not comment. ISU special events coordinator Peter Krick said Tuesday that no comment would be made until after the world championships.

Other influential skating figures involved in the WSF are Sally Stapleford, a former chairwoman of the powerful ISU technical committee; Sonia Bianchetti, an Olympic-level judge since 1964 and the first woman elected to an ISU office; world-renowned coaches John Nicks and Kathy Casey; 1992 Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie; and Jon Jackson, chairman of the U.S. Figure Skating Association's international committee.

Jackson raised concerns after the Olympics that Cinquanta might try to let the Salt Lake City controversy die rather than investigate it fully. WSF members said they believe that is exactly what has happened.

"We must rebuild some integrity back into the sport,'' Pfenning said.

Pfenning was dismissed last week as referee of the women's event at the world championships, which began Monday. Pfenning resigned from the ISU's powerful technical committee on Friday.

Pfenning has been one of the more outspoken critics of Cinquanta, and he also was at the center of the Salt Lake City Olympics figure skating scandal. As referee of the pairs competition, Pfenning revealed that French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne said she was pressured to vote for the Russian couple rather than the Canadians.

Recently, Pfenning told Cinquanta he thought the ISU Council had abused the judging process by eliminating judges' post-event discussions of marks.

Skating has been struggling to regain its credibility since the Salt Lake City scandal, and a furor over the interim judging system hasn't helped. Critics say its anonymity protects shady judges, and the USFSA opposes it.

Jackson said the group already has commitments for close to $200,000 in funding, all from private donations. But that isn't anywhere near the amount it will need to become a viable alternative in the sport.

Jackson projected a budget of $750,000 to $1 million "is what we think we would need to be self-sufficient.''