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PERSONAL COMMENTS TO THE ISU PRESS RELEASE
ON THE NEW JUDGING SYSTEM
by Sonia Bianchetti
The ISU issued a press release February 16, 2004 about the
New Judging System (Code of Points, or CoP) being on the Agenda
for this year's Congress. While reading it, I wondered whether
the ISU leaders still live on this earth or if they moved
to another planet.
In their document they say that the New Judging System used
at the Grand Prix events requires extensive (and I add very
expensive) computer technology. In a desperate effort to convince
the Members that the new system could be implemented also
in minor senior and junior international competitions as well
as in national, regional or even club competitions, they announce
that considerable work is being done to develop a PC based
version that would be available to ISU Members at very reasonable
cost. What "reasonable" means for the ISU is still
to be known.
I think the talk of low cost hardware is due to a realization
at the ISU that a manual version of the New Judging System
is not practical. Instead they are now trying to convince
people that computer hardware would be affordable by everyone
so that all competitions could be judged using CoP.
I have heard numbers as high as $20,000 to $25,000 for a
complete system that would run the ISU provided software.
For a competition with 9 or more judges, callers and video
replay (which is essential to the system) the costs may be
a little less, but not much less. The President said that
the ISU is putting together two hardware systems to be used
at major ISU events (Junior Grand Prix, Senior Grand Prix
and all Championships). What would be used at all other international
competitions, junior and senior, is not clear. Would the ISU
cover the costs of all ISU sanctioned events? Would the ISU
expect the host members to provide the hardware and bear all
the costs to run the event with the CoP system? I believe
these are important details to be clarified.
To use the New Judging System domestically, each ISU member
would have to purchase one or more hardware systems costing
about $25,000 each and ship it every week all over the country
from north to south, from east to west. Is the ISU also providing
for a mini truck with driver? If the clubs of an ISU member
have more than one competition at the same time, will the
Member have to buy more than one system?
Assuming the money was available to buy
all these systems, you still have to look at the true cost
of ownership. After buying the hardware there are additional
costs associated with ownership and use:
- Shipping from one competition to the next
- Set-up and system integration at each location
- Upgrading each system for new developments
- Repair and maintenance
- Technical support
This is not a system that can just be
set up, used and maintained by volunteers. Qualified technical
support is required, meaning that at least a part time employee
or some sort of service contract is needed. The system requires
the use of video so the judges don't lose track of the action
while entering all the information. That means video hardware
and it is unclear if that is included in the hardware system
cost. It also means qualified video cameraman to operate the
video system. Since there is no manual backup system the computer
hardware has to work reliably ALL the time. A complex computer
hardware/software system with the required reliability is
not cheap to maintain in perfect shape. Even when that can
be done, it is very expensive.
Also we have to consider the wear and tear of shipping the
equipment, setting it up, and breaking it down frequently.
We can expect that the hardware will need to be replaced about
every five years.
After the cost of purchasing the hardware from the ISU or
elsewhere, and the ongoing costs of ownership, we have to
consider the increased costs at a competition which include:
the larger panel of judges, the callers, the replay technicians,
the video people, and the hardware technical support costs.
Finally, from a practical point of view on the local level,
getting all this equipment into a small, old, damp arena with
an unreliable power system is also an issue. Computer hardware
does not like to operate in a foggy, cold, damp environment!
It is one thing to set up the system in a modern big arena
with a nice environment and plenty of power, and another in
a small 40-year old rink, unheated and sometimes only covered.
Most of the rinks used for local competitions and championships,
at least in Europe, are not equipped with score-boards, nor
there are tables on which to install the computers. In most
countries the old boxes with the black and red numbers are
still used by the judges to display their marks, which are
inserted by hand in a computer, when there is one. As an example
I can mention the Italian Championships in Milan this year,
although Italy is a wealthy country, as well as the Italian
Federation. Sometimes the secretaries still write the marks
on the protocol and calculate the results manually. The Members
or the local organisers just cannot afford to buy or hire
computers or ship them around the country, even PCs.
The CoP equipment cannot be set up the morning before the
competition. Someone has to come in at least one day earlier
to install it and test it. Besides the equipment cannot be
taken down and stored each night. Many rinks run hockey, skating
school or public sessions intermixed with competitions, therefore
security measures are necessary to lookout for the equipment
during the competitions. This means more expenses.
So the cost of the PC and the software, whichever it may
be, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Either the ISU "experts"
have not thought through the consequences, or they are hiding
the consequences to help get their way on this system.
Even assuming that all these financial and technical problems
could be overcome, are we sure that the new system can be
used in minor or junior international or national competitions
with 40 or more competitors? Will the coaches have to provide
beforehand the content of the programs of some hundred children?
And is the computer programmed for the content of these kind
of programs, where the jumps sometimes look more like spins
rather than jumps? And what kind of grade of execution will
the caller assign to spins with two or three revolutions?
Moreover, apart from the difficulties for the "caller"
to identify the elements or establish a level of difficulty
at these low standards, is it realistic to think that a judge
can award five different marks for the five components to
60 or more baby skaters in a club competition? Unless we accept
that it will be like drawing the numbers of a lottery, in
fairness, as a conscious judge, I would say: DEFINITELY NOT.
The ISU, instead of telling only one part of the story to
make things seem better and easier than they are, should clearly
inform the Members and make them aware that if they will vote
in favour of the New Judging System, they implicitly will
also accept that there will necessarily be two different systems
in judging in figure skating, nationally and internationally:
the historical and tested 6.0 system and the new and still
developing CoP system.