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Mihir Bose argues against the inclusion of ice skating in the Olympics while Sandra Stevenson puts the case for

FOR THERE is one very important reason why ice skating should, and will, remain in the Olympics. Money, writes Sandra Stevenson

Without the huge fees from television companies — particularly from North America — the Games would probaly not exist as we know them.

And NBC’s ratings clearly demonstrate that what the viewers want to watch most is the four ice skating disciplines.

Such sports as biathlon and luge simply benefit as tag-along events. They are given air time only because they are part of the package.

Since 1960, when the Winter Olympics were in Squaw Valley in the United States, television companies have paid escalating amounts to air increasing number of hours of ice skating.

The International Skating Union tried for many years to get the International Olympic Committee to accept ice dancing as an Olympic sport. Broadcast executives stepped in and demanded that ice dancing should be added to the other ice skating disciplines for the 1976 Games. And so such sublime moments as Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s four-minute gold medal winning Bolero routine in Sarajevo in 1984 were piped into millions of households around the world. The Britons became symbols of perfection on ice even in countries where there are no ice rinks.

Why would you deny such harmless, pleasant entertainment to a world in need of beauty?

Ice dance has been widely criticised because of the subjective judging. However, many changes have been instigated recently to make the judging easier to understand, including required elements with specific penalties for failures.

Italy’s Maurizio Margaglio, who partnered Barbara Fusar Poli to victory in the world championship, argues: “For us it has been eight years of very hard work to climb from being national champions to this stage. Ice dance is a very hard sport. It is almost impossible to do complex steps which we do at great speed and while we are very close. People do not realize the difficulty of what we do and so do not show respect.”

Undoubtedly some of the judging is subjective. But surely subjectivity, when exercised by knowledgeable individuals, is far better than winning gold in freak decisions. A ray of sunshine can destroy medal hopes in sports like luge where the victory is measured in split seconds. And I’ll take subjectivity any time over letting an accident decide gold as happened in short track speed skating on Saturday. In the 1,000m Australia’s Steven Bradbury reached the final because of another skater’s disqualification. In the final he was so far behind the other four that when they all fell he was able to glide past the tangle of bodies to claim his country’s first ever Winter Olympic gold.

Now that was a farce.

AGAINST

ICE SKATING should never have been part of the Olympics Games. The shenanigans here in Salt Lake City over the Pairs competition has finally proved that this is not a sport and it is high time it was removed from the Games. The farcical judging row which led to both the Canadians and Russians being declared gold medal winners has, in my opinion, devalued the entire event, writes Mihir Bose

Television audiences may love it, but that is not a justifiable reason for keeping ice skating in the Olympics. On this basis, Games officials should be declaring It’s a Knockout an Olympic event.

Why doesn’t ice skating qualify as a sport? Fundamentally because it fails the first test of any sporting competition: that all the competitors, whatever their pedigree and past performances, must start on an equal footing and perform on the same level playing field.

True, they perform on the same ice surface, but the judging is so rigged that skating has turned the old sporting cliche on its head: competitions are pre-arranged and won not on the ice but on paper.

Even before a competition begins, the coach of a skater or skaters will ask a judge to watch the practice performances and give advice on whether he or she is impressed. Worse still, the rules of the International Skating Union require judges to attend practice in the days leading up to an event to became familiar with the skaters’ programs.

Imagine the FA requiring referee Philip Don to attend Manchester United’s coaching sessions.

To cap it all, the scoring system is so corrupt that it virtually guarantees that there will be no upsets — one of the great thrills of any sporting contest.

The scoring system requires that even before the competition begins the judges have a preconceived idea of the abilities of the skaters, how they will perform and what marks they deserve.

Judges give marks for technical merit, based on jumps and other movements, and on artistic presentation.

Six is the maximum a judge can award. The skaters perform in reverse order, with the favourites coming towards the end. However, since the judge already knows what is coming, even if lowly ranked skaters perform brilliantly, they will not get a maximum mark. A six is reserved for the top skater or skaters who are already well known on past performance.

This means that apart from certain events such as Torvill and Dean skating to Bolero, much of figure skating is both predictable and, for me, as exciting as watching paint dry or ice melt.

Figure skating tries to marry athletic activity to music to manufacture a sport. It fails. It is show business, a pantomime that has no place in amongst competitive sport.

© Mihir Bose

      

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