Judges of Olympic figure skating allegedly favor their native country’s skaters in competition, according to research from a Dartmouth University economics professor.
Under current rules, judges can score their own country’s skaters. More interestingly, federations select which judges to send to a competition, as opposed to an international body selecting the panel.
According to NBC News, professor Eric Zitzewitz says he has found measurable bias in international skating competitions the past 15 years, with countries including Russia, Ukraine, South Korea, Canada, and the United States cracking his top 10 most biased judges.
Along with the NBC News report, a BuzzFeed News analysis of over 200 figure skating judges shows 27 judges consistently gave higher scores to skaters from their own country in the past year. Federations selected 16 of those 27 judges to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. That means one in three figure skating judges in PyeongChang have shown signs of national bias in the past.
A total of 48 judges from 24 countries were chosen to score figure skaters at the 2018 Winter Games, with the U.S., Canada, and China sending four each.
In the ice dance, short dance event on Feb. 19, Canadian judge Leanna Caron awarded Canadian skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir a perfect score for their routine. No other judge awarded the Canadian skaters perfect scores across the scorecard. Caron is listed as judge no. 1 on the scorecard.
In the team event on Feb. 11, Canadian judge Jeff Lukasik awarded Canadian skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford +3 marks three times on the scorecard (+3 is the highest score). Lukasik did not give another +3 to any other skater in that event. He appears as judge no. 8 on the scorecard.
Skaters Duhamel and Radford, along with teammates Patrick Chan, Kaetlyn Osmond, Gabrielle Daleman, Virtue, and Moir, went on to win gold for Canada in the team event.
Canada has won three figure skating medals in PyeongChang, the most so far in this year’s Winter Games. Both of their gold medal performances had a Canadian judge on the judging panel.
Another notable name of the 48 judges selected is Italian Walter Toigo. The Italian was suspended by the International Skating Union (ISU) in 2010 for looking at other judge’s computer screens, but will still return as a judge in the 2018 Winter Olympics. He has already judged an event this Olympics, which had Italian skaters competing.
In addition to the NBC News and BuzzFeed reports, university statistician John W. Emerson also found similar national bias in his analysis of Olympic judges during the Summer Olympics. According to the Wall Street Journal, his 2009 study reveals the same bias issue exists in diving.
The last Winter Olympics had its own share of a figure skating scandal. In the 2014 edition in Russia, Russian skater Adelina Sotnikova hugged Russian judge Alla Shekhovtsova after receiving the highest scores of her career and winning the gold over favored Yuna Kim of South Korea. The ISU later rejected complaints by South Korea and Sotnikova kept her gold.
In those same Olympics, dozens of Russian athletes were part of a state-run doping program, which involved replacing urine samples through a hole in the wall.
In another figure skating scandal from the 2002 Winter Olympics in the US, a French judge and the head of the French Skating Association were suspended for three years.
Following that scandal in 2002, the ISU made each judge’s scores anonymous to the public, in hopes of decreasing pressure on judges. A year and a half ago, the ISU reversed the rule again, allowing viewers to now see a judge’s scores once more.
The ISU has not announced any plans to disallow judges from scoring their native country in international competition.