WASHINGTON, D.C. -- You can\'t find French fries or identify a French judge.
Thanks to the French failure to participate in Iraq 2003, chips are now being sold as \"freedom fries\'\' and thanks to the Salt Lake Olympic figure skating judging scandal, protests form the backdrop for the World Figure Skating Championships.
We\'ve been covering \'\'Shock & Awe\'\' for years - the awe of the skaters\' performances and the shock of the judges marks which followed. But this will be the most warlike week, if not in all the history of figure skating, at least since Tonya Harding was around.
BY THE END OF IT ...
And by the end of it, we might all be qualified to move over a couple of blocks to the White House and cover what\'s left of the other event George Bush is currently identified with (he\'s honorary chairman of the Washington Worlds).
When competition starts today and they boo the French, some may make the mistake of thinking it\'s political, in terms of France not joining the U.S. and Great Britain in bombing Baghdad as opposed to political in terms of France fixing the figure skating.
French judge Marie Reine Le Gougne, of course, was fingered for the fix which cost Canada\'s Jamie Sale and David Pelletier the gold medal, which resulted in massive international outrage.
If you thought that was the end of it when the International Skating Union was forced to give the Edmonton Royal Glenora pairs skaters a gold, welcome to Washington.
Under the leadership of ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta, figure skating stuck an interim, ah, solution to the, er, fix in which they found themselves.
The ISU invented a judging system for these and likely the next Worlds in which nobody will know who fixed anything.
Which is why about two weeks ago I received an invitation from SkateFAIR (Skate Fans for Accountability and ISU Reform) to attend the big protest rally in Washington, D.C. on Friday.
Now there\'s a protest rally here, of some description, every week and probably one every day this week with the antiwar and pro-war factions. But when figure skating has a protest rally, that\'s news.
Featured at the protest rally will be Sally Stapleford, the president of British Skating Federation, who played a key role in exposing the French judge in Salt Lake.
O.K.. Maybe not front page news.
\"I asked Sally if she\'d mind setting herself on fire but she wouldn\'t,\'\' said Sandra Stevenson of The London Daily Telegraph in the press room yesterday.
Stapleford is already on record here:
\"A year ago we had accountability. A year ago the system pinpointed Marie Reine. Now nobody knows what any judge has done.
\'\'We\'re far worse off. I don\'t know how anyone in their right mind can think this is an improvement. In this day and age, we\'ve got to have transparency.\'\'
Five days into this thing, one can only imagine the venom she\'ll have built up.
On the road to Washington, the Japan Skating Federation publicaly came out against what\'s happening here this year and Cinquanta\'s permanent plan for a high-tech, push-button system which will still protect the identity and nationality of the judge.
The U.S. Figure Skating Association voted against the interim system and, as the event neared, came out against it again.
PULLED AS A REFEREE
And this past week U.S. referee Ron Pfenning was pulled as ref of the women\'s event after personally protesting the rules by which the judges would work this event (in which, it ought to be noted, American skaters are expected to finish 1-2-3.)
Friday, Pfenning announced his resignation from the ISU technical committee.
\"The integrity of administration of the sport of figure skating has deteriorated over the past several years and continues to do so,\'\' he said in a written statement.
So there will be no \'FRA\' above the 5.6 that should have been a 5.9 this time.
Instead of nine judges and their marks, there will be 14 judges who will not be identified with the marks of nine of 14 \"randomly and secretly\'\' chosen.
This is good, says Dider Gailhaguet, the French federation president who was banned from ISU events for three years because of his part in the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games scandal.
In yesterday\'s Washington Post he is quoted with an anti-American view on all of this:
\"America is not the centre of the universe. Many judges in other countries happen to like the system.\'\'
Two lines from The Washington Post:
\"U.S. grumbling has been viewed as destructive and inappropriate big-footing \"Cinquanta, who is considered either a savvy reformer or a diabolical leader Figure skating. Take a right at the Pentagon, a left at the White House ...