It’s been 2 days, and I still can’t shake the sadness and confusion I’ve felt since Saturday morning, when I learned that 127 (now 132) people were killed in terrorist attacks in Paris and that Trophee Eric Bompard was canceled midway through the competition. Things don’t feel right with the world. Both the larger world, and our own much-loved world of figure skating—which, for many of us, helps makes the larger world a better place.
Of course, my thoughts lie with the victims in France. And with the French skaters and coaches, who were particularly affected by the tragedy, as most of them train in the Paris area.
In the aftermath, it felt odd to do my usual pairs review of the event. Instead, I’ll just touch on some of my thoughts from this weekend.
1. The ISU needs to implement a crisis management plan.
The ISU was clearly caught unprepared by this crisis. It was the French authorities who determined that TEB must be canceled (not the ISU or the French federation). Questions immediately arose as to how the cancellation would affect qualification for the Grand Prix Final, as well as allocation of TEB prize money. The ISU apparently had no existing rules regarding canceled competitions and the resultant issues. We now wait for the ISU Council’s emergency decisions on these matters, to come on Tuesday.
Some say the ISU could not have anticipated such a tragedy and therefore couldn’t have been expected to plan for it. I cannot agree. The concept and advisability of crisis management planning is well understood in the business world. Developing contingency plans for unlikely, but possible, events is considered good management practice. Crisis planning goes by different names—crisis management, disaster recovery, business continuity, risk management—but whatever the jargon, the concept is easy to grasp. Anyone running a business or organization of appreciable size should think about, and plan for, as many eventualities as possible. No one could have imagined this particular tragedy, but anyone could imagine a competition interrupted by a natural disaster, mass power outage, or political crisis.
The ISU can and must do a better job of crisis planning. There are many tools to help, including dozens of books on crisis management and disaster recovery; consulting firms that specialize in crisis planning; and many organizations, such as the Red Cross, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and FEMA, which provide guidelines and protocols.
2. I wish the ISU would also consider implementing a stronger policy regarding concussions.
The day before the Paris tragedy, we saw a worrisome event at TEB itself. While attempting a throw quad Salchow in practice, Cheng Peng of China fell and hit her head on the ice. This accident was caught on video by The Blade Boys.
It was scary to see Cheng fall and hit her head this way. She appeared to be okay afterward and continued practice, following a very brief break and exam by the Chinese coaches and members of the Russian/French staffs. However, appearances don’t always tell the full story with head injuries; sometimes an athlete can have a concussion, yet not realize it. In the short program the next day, Cheng fell before the program even began and then fell again on the SBS 3T. It’s very possible that Cheng’s problems in the SP were completely unrelated to the practice accident. But I would have felt much better if she had received a thorough medical examination before continuing.
The ISU does not currently seem to have any specific policy on concussions (either at, or outside, competition). Rule 141 of the ISU Constitution and General Regulations 2014 simply states: “It is the responsibility of all Members to ensure that their Competitors can physically and mentally compete safely.” So, the federations are charged with evaluating any head injuries.
In this respect, ISU policy isn’t too different from that of FIFA, NFL, or NHL. All of those governing bodies require examination of head injuries during games by team doctors (as opposed to league/FIFA representatives). However, one difference is that the NFL and NHL require team doctors to use a standard concussion assessment tool to determine a player’s fitness. The ISU could consider implementing a similar requirement. Or it could provide independent medical consultants at events, as the English Premier League does with its “tunnel doctors,” although this would obviously be an additional expense.
I’d like to see the ISU get more involved in this issue because it seems concussions are a growing problem in skating. This season alone, there have been 5 confirmed cases of concussions among elite skaters (Joshua Farris, DeeDee Leng, Caitlin Yankowskas, Ondrej Hotarek, and of course reigning World champion Gabriella Papadakis). There may be more unconfirmed cases. Another worrisome factor: Some studies suggest that female athletes may be more susceptible to, and/or suffer more serious, sports-related concussions than male athletes. Although this is still a theory, it’s something to consider in figure skating, a sport with many female participants.
Bottom line is, I’d like to see the ISU think proactively about this issue and take steps to address it, even if it’s just a matter of further investigation or issuing more detailed guidelines to federations.
3. On a happier note, it was great to see Olympic champions Volosozhar/Trankov back in Grand Prix competition.
This fall, Volosozhar/Trankov became the first reigning Olympic pairs champions to return to competition in 22 years. The last time this happened was back in 1993, when reigning Olympic champions Mishkutionok/Dmitriev returned for the 1993-94 season. I give Volosozhar/Trankov a ton of credit for coming back to competition–especially now, with the technical demands of pairs skating escalating and the discipline in flux. To me, it signals that Tatiana/Max’s competitive spirit has not dimmed and that they still want to make an impact in the sport, even though they’ve already achieved all the highest prizes.
I enjoyed seeing them in the short program at TEB. Tatiana/Max are not yet back in top competitive shape, but they were much stronger at TEB than at Nebelhorn. I liked their new Bollywood SP and felt it was a cut above the other pairs’ short programs in terms of concept and choreography. I’m glad that the Olympic champions decided to return, and it will be interesting to see what they can bring to the discipline over the next few seasons.
4. I hope that everyone can accept whatever solution the ISU chooses for Grand Prix Final qualification.
The debate on skating forums and Twitter about the TEB cancellation and how it should affect GP Final qualification has been bruising and contentious. It’s pretty clear at this point that no solution can be perfectly fair to all the skaters. Sometimes you just have to take the best of the bad choices, and move on. One thing to bear in mind: It’s just the Grand Prix Final. Yes, it’s an important event, and there’s prize money involved. But it’s not like anyone is missing out on a spot to Worlds or Olympics.
Will things return to “normal” as Grand Prix competition resumes at Rostelecom Cup next weekend? Probably not, with thoughts of Paris still in everyone’s mind. But perhaps the skating world, at least, can start to get a little closer to normal. I hope.