Sports Letters: Justice on the ice

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Sir: William Hartston's thoughtful article (Ivory Towers, 26 January) reports that an analysis of the judges' marks in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic ice figure skating championships revealed that most judges showed a bias (sometimes as much as two places) in favour of skaters from their own country.

This is hardly surprising, however regrettable; after all, judges are human. It is to counteract this nationalistic tendency that the complicated but statistically fair results system has been evolved by the International Skating Union over nearly a century, since 1895.

Its basic philosophy is that the larger the panel, the less impact can be made by a biased judge. International championships are therefore judged by a panel of nine, who each rank the skaters in their own order of merit. To win outright, a competitor needs to gain first place from five or more (that is, a majority) of the judges. If no one has such a majority, the rules say that the title goes to the skater with the best majority for the following place (counting places of second or higher).

That is what enabled Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean to win the European Ice Dance Championship in Copenhagen in January.

With the Winter Olympic Games almost upon us, it is important that the general public should realise that the results system is equitable, even if complex.

Yours sincerely,



West Sussex