Decisions of the ISU Congress
Changes passed at the ISU Congress include new jumping restrictions, various rule changes that will heavily effect pairs program content, and a change to the Olympic qualification process.
Every two years, the International Skating Union gathers its officials and delegations from all its member’s federation for the ISU Congress. It is here that they make most of the major decisions about the rules and regulations that govern how figure and speeding skating are run. They tend to make more changes at the post-Olympic Congress than at the mid-quadrennial one. It’s good to have all four years to iron the kinks of them out, before the stakes reach their highest and the sports are most put on display at the Games. For the same reason, it’s common enough for the biggest rule changes from previous meetings to not take effect until the post-Olympic season.
That was the case for figure skating this year. The Congress was held in Seville, Spain, with two major changes already scheduled to come into place. Next year, the men and pairs will lose half a minute from their free programs; everyone will skate one four minutes long. And they’ll want to hit their technical elements in them better, because the Grade of Execution marks for them, which previous could run from -3 to +3, will now run from -5 to +5. Neither of these changes is without controversy, especially with the worry that the men and pairs programs will get too crowded, and there’ll be less room for artistry.
The Congress was also streamed live online for the first time, making it easy for fans to keep track of developments as proposed measures were passed, or were rejected or withdrawn, throughout the week. Some of the figure skating-related ones were highly technical, including a bunch that passed with the other technical rules as one big package. Others are likely to have a much bigger effect on how things go for the next two years:
Passed: The most anticipated aspect of the rules in the technical package was the new jump limits. First was the limiting of back half bonuses. It was getting to the point where some Russian ladies were doing all their jumps in the second half of their programs, where they were all worth more. Now, the bonus goes onto to one jump in the short and three in the free. Next came the big one: skaters can now repeat two jumps in the free skate, and only one can be a quad. Also, if they do a jump sequence, the second jump has to be an axel.
In theory, this is supposed to keep men from biting off more than they can chew. They’ve been doing that lately, resulting in most men’s competitions last season turning ugly. Unfortunately, this kind of limiting is more likely to drive the men to learn more kinds of quads, and could even make things turn even more ugly. And really, only rewarding three jumps in the free is a little much. There was an alternate proposal for making it two in the short and four in the free; it’s kind of a pity that one didn’t pass instead.
Passed: A renaming of the short dance, which will now be called the rhythm dance. At least that’s some indication they’ll keep the teams doing compulsory patterns, even though in the 2019-2020 season, teams won’t even all have to do the same ones. Also, skaters can only hold opening and final poses for up to ten seconds, and will no longer allowed to kneel or slide on the ice.
Passed: They also legalized of a number of previous banned moves, including some common pairs show tricks that were outlawed due to being too dangerous, and also lying and kneeling on the ice will be allowed back in for singles and pairs, even as it becomes forbidden in dance. Skaters will be allowed to dramatically die in the end like they did in the 80s, or wow the audience with scary tricks. And with choreographic sequences. Those were scheduled to be eliminated, but now they won’t be after all.
Passed: That’s not all that’s changing for pairs. With the choreographic sequence staying in, they’re taking out the side by side spins instead. Although now the short program will require that every year, instead of alternating between side by side and pairs spins. It’s still less side by side spins all together, which is for the better, since lack of synchronization on them marred many any otherwise flawless performance. And we’ll be seeing more kinds of lifts in the free, because pairs are no longer allowed to repeat any. Before they, everyone always did two lasso lifts, because those were the hardest and they could.
Passed: A change to PCS criteria that sets the perfect 10 apart from all other numbers. They’re clearly hoping to get judges to reserve those for something truly special, since they’ve become a bit overly abundant in recent years. But when they said: “Mark 10 is something special and should not be clearly distinguish from marks in 9s,” one assumes they didn’t intend to have that not in there. It may be hard to determine how much impact this statement actually has.
Passed: A new rule to have scores at skating competitions examined by an independent panel searching for national bias. A more certain measure of keeping federation presidents off judging panels failed, but at least those who serve official national team leaders during a season can’t be involved in the judging for that season. Whether this oversight group helps any may depend on whether they actually want to, or whether they just want to make a show of it. Also, judges will now have to turn their phones and other similar devices off during competitions. But a rule to further limit what documents they can bring to the stand with them was withdrawn.
Passed: A change to the Olympic qualification, so that a country with only one or two skaters or teams that makes the free skate can only lock in that many berths at Worlds. If they have other skaters, those skaters can try to get the berths they would’ve gotten at the fall qualifier. This solves a problem that was arising when a country’s only skater or team that was Olympic worthy, or even their only skater or team at all, made the top ten or even top two at Worlds, resulting in berths either given up or given to skaters not as good as the rest of the Olympic roster. Some third berths might also be similarly affected.
Passed: Starting with the 2019 World Championships, twenty pairs teams will advance to the free skate. It was getting ridiculously difficult for pairs to qualify even with excellent skates, and it was clear after 2017 Worlds that this change should happen. The measure doesn’t address whether they’ll change anything at the Olympics, though, where twenty pairs compete and sixteen make the free, and one of the top Chinese teams didn’t in PyeongChang.
Passed: Changes to the skate order draw for the short program on the Grand Prix. Now the skaters highest-ranked in the world standings will draw to skate the second half of the second warm-up group, while those lowest-ranked will open the first group, unless they get preceded by skaters with no world standings points at all. At least they’re still having a draw?
Passed: Men are now allowed to wear tights. Throughout its history, figure skating has struggled with restrictive rules and expectations demanding the skaters conform to gender roles. They even required ladies to wear skirts for nearly twenty years before dropping that one for singles and pairs before 2006. This is them slowly letting go of that.
Passed: Medal ceremonies will now be done Olympic-style, meaning the bronze medalist comes out first and the gold medalist last, for proper culmination effect.
Passed: All international results will now be used to calculate national Team Results throughout the season. Why we should care is unclear. The officials really do like the whole notion of national teams competing against each other way too much.
Rejected: The measure to raise the minimum age for senior international competitions to 17. It came across very much as an attempt to keep the top Russian skaters out, so it’s probably for the best it didn’t pass.
Rejected: A splitting of the judging panel, so half of them would only give GOE marks, and half of them would only give presentation scores. This is an idea that has bounced around for years, and even been tried out at limited events before. Many think the skaters at those events got scored more properly, and it nearly passed. But too many powerful people were against it, they argued about the logistical difficulties, and it came up four votes short.
Rejected: Allowing judges into ISU Championships from countries that don’t have skaters in them. Currently only countries that send skaters send judges. In theory, you’d think judges without a horse in the race would be less biased. But if you believe the stories of backroom deals, that wouldn’t be the case, and also judges for bigger countries, like skaters, will sometimes switch their affiliation to smaller ones. Usually the countries without qualified skaters don’t have too many qualified judges either anyway.
Withdrawn: A proposal to eliminate the fall deduction! Since it came in there’s been both people who’ve thought it too harsh and people who haven’t thought it harsh enough. But you have to think a fall should get *some* penalty, even one that isn’t on an element.
Withdrawn: Also a proposal to give bonuses to singles skaters who land six kinds of jumps in their free skates. The Russian federation has been giving its skaters bonuses in intranational competitions for harder jumps for a while now, and since it’s resulted in a lot of skaters who can do them, the U.S. is now starting to do the same. But in international competition, such bonuses would feel a little gratuitous. And with the new jump restrictions, a lot more skaters might be doing this one anyway.
Withdrawn: A hard limit of the number of skaters allowed at Worlds in each discipline starting in 2021. It was withdrawn with a declaration that’s too far in the future to say that now, but they might reconsider it later. Though they’d need time to figure out how they’d determine who got in, if only a certain number of skaters could.
Withdrawn: Proposed changes to how the PCS numbers are multiplied to determine to presentation score. With them already changing the GOE scale, that might have been too much change at once.
Withdrawn: Separating out the standings of senior and junior skaters. The current system often has some awkward rankings of junior skaters above top senior ones. The ISU’s Technical Committee did say this is another one they’d be willing to consider in the future.
Withdrawn: A ban on officials from posting comments or media related to competitions. They might just edit that into the Code of Ethics instead.
The rest of the decisions about the sport for the next two years will be made at ISU Council meetings taking place at various times, including next summer. But the technical overhaul that’s been passed especially should determine most of what happens in the sport for quite a while.