SALT LAKE CITY — What does a Latvian bobsledder have to do with figure-skating judging?
The answer: At the Olympic Games, the sports are run by international federations, not the International Olympic Committee, though it's a common misperception that the IOC has direct responsibility for everything having to do with anything "Olympic."
Just days before the Salt Lake City Winter Games began, an international arbitration panel, in the most dramatic way possible, reminded the IOC of the key role of the sports federations. The panel reinstated the eligibility of Latvian bobsledder Sandis Prusis for the Games, backing the bobsled federation, though the IOC tried to ban him following a positive test for the steroid nandrolone.
Similarly, in the controversy that has erupted over whether the judging was fair in pairs figure skating Monday night, the IOC can do little more than ratchet up the pressure on the International Skating Union, perhaps the most powerful of the winter sports federations, by urging it to conduct an expedient inquiry. IOC President Jacques Rogge emphasized in a letter sent Wednesday to the ISU the "high urgency" of the matter and the "need to take adequate action as quickly as possible."
Further complicating the politics, as well as the intrigue, ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta is also a member of the IOC's policymaking Executive Board. Cinquanta has said the ISU is sticking to its original schedule--to review the judging Monday.
"When something like this happens, it's bad for the Olympics because people think it's the Olympics that's not fair," said Canadian Dick Pound, a former IOC vice president. "When in fact that's not the case.
"The competition is run and judged by the ISU, and it's the ISU that has the problem."
News reports quoting an unidentified IOC official said the IOC is "leaning" toward awarding a duplicate gold medal to Canadian pairs figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. Russians Anton Sikharulidze and Yelena Berezhnaya were awarded the gold. Five of nine judges voted for the Russians, including French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne, who sources say later told other judges she was pressured to vote that way.
One of the reports said the IOC is trying to take control of the dispute from the ISU. It quoted Paul Henderson, another Canadian IOC member, saying the matter might become one for the IOC if it is proved a judge violated the Olympic oath to be impartial.
R. Kevan Gosper of Australia, a senior IOC vice president, said late Thursday that the IOC has "certainly not discussed options like" awarding a second gold medal.
The issue is fraught with uncertainty for the IOC, because a second gold medal for the Canadian pair would set a precedent that undoubtedly would invite others who have felt aggrieved by the so-called "technical" decisions of federation judges, or federation appeals panels, to renew their requests for redress directly to the IOC.
For example, the IOC's Executive Board has long shied away from a review of the controversial 1972 gold-medal basketball game between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Americans thought they won until time was put back on the clock and the Soviets scored what was ruled the game-winning points. An international basketball federation panel ruled that the Soviets won, and the IOC--despite repeated requests--has never interfered.
On the issue of a dual gold for the Canadians, Gosper said, "That has not been a deliberation of ours because it's not a matter for us. The matter for us is that we find out the result of the ISU inquiry," and "the earlier the better."
As for Henderson's remarks, Gosper said, "He can say what he likes. But he doesn't have the authority to suggest we have been deliberating about it."
The Salt Lake Organizing Committee hasn't taken a position, either. And it won't.
"I've got my own troubles," said Mitt Romney, its president, "enough for me not to worry about other people's."