French skating officials urge cleanupPosted: Saturday February 16, 2002 4:02 PM
PARIS (AP) -- French sports officials said Saturday that figure skating is in need of a cleanup, but France's leading sports daily called a suspended French judge a scapegoat for a corrupt system.
As the scandal over Monday's pairs competition at the Salt Lake City games unfolded, a retired French figure skater revealed that her Olympic silver medal was decided in advance by judges working in an environment of "institutionalized" corruption.
Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet said the suspension of French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, accused of misconduct by skating's governing body, highlighted a need to review the sport.
Buffet told Europe 1 radio that the International Skating Union needs to "reflect" on possible changes to avoid a repeat of the scandal.
Le Gougne was suspended indefinitely for misconduct after admitting she was pressured to favor Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, who won gold. Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier initially were given the silver.
The IOC decided Friday that the pair would share the gold medal with their Russian rivals.
"It's a good decision," said the president of the French National Olympic Committee, Henri Serandour, after the IOC decision conferring gold on the Canadians.
"I am delighted for the Canadians and in the name of sporting morality," Serandour was quoted as saying in Saturday's edition of French sports daily L'Equipe. "As for Madame Le Gougne, I said from the start of this affair that if there was malpractice, there should be punishment."
Serandour said he hoped the affair would "serve as an example because, for a very long time, we have known the recurring sickness that has sapped skating. Let's hope action to remedy it will follow."
Le Gougne reportedly told the ISU she was pressured by her country's own skating federation to vote for the Russians. French federation president Didier Gailhaguet denied the claim.
Speaking on French television Saturday night, Gailhaguet repeated that his federation had not exerted pressure on any of the judges.
"We have never tried to influence the rankings," he told France 2.
Gailhaguet acknowledged that within the sport there are "attempts to influence" judges. "It's nothing new," he said, but he denied that French skating officials were ever implicated.
"This is scandalous and I say today, it's enough."
French newspapers on Saturday agreed the sport was rife with corruption but differed over whether Le Gougne's punishment was justified.
"Ice skating is the king of sports in terms of corruption," popular daily Le Parisien said, and "the actions of the judge [Le Gougne] harm the image of France."
L'Equipe said the judge was being treated as a scapegoat.
"It is hypocritical of the international federation [the ISU] to use the French judge as a scapegoat to disguise the corruption of a system of which [ISU President Ottavio] Cinquanta is perfectly aware," the paper said.
Le Gougne has become the "Bin Laden of ice skating" for the American media, L'Equipe added.
"The North American media focused on the behavior of the French judge, considering it normal that the Ukrainian, Chinese, Russian and Polish judges voted for Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze," L'Equipe wrote.
But the paper said it would approve of Le Gougne's suspension if evidence -- which the ISU has so far refused to make public -- justified punishment.
L'Equipe also ran an extract from an old interview with Le Gougne in which she detailed the dilemma facing judges.
"All judges find themselves faced with problems of choice," Le Gougne told L'Equipe at the 2000 World Championships in Nice, France. "And when they have to choose between skaters, it might as well be for the French one. It's a public relations job. It's everyone's policy."
Retired French figure skater Isabelle Duchesnay said she wasn't surprised by the scandal at Salt Lake City.
"All the titles are decided ahead of time," said Duchesnay, who won silver in the ice dance with her brother, Paul Duchesnay, in the 1992 Winter Olympics. "The corruption is so institutionalized that it had to break out some time."
"At Albertville, some officials came to see us before the start of the free program," Duchesnay said. "They said: 'We're sorry, but you'll only get the silver medal.' When you're in this environment, you think it's normal."
Duchesnay, who runs a skating school and judges professional competitions, said judges are swayed by offers of free trips by national skating federations.
"It's not a coincidence that now it's the Russians and Americans who dominate skating," Duchesnay said. "These two federations are the richest and have the means to finance the skullduggery"