Monday, February 18, 2002
French official under fire; judge changes story
SALT LAKE CITY -- French skating chief Didier Gailhaguet pressured judges in the past and should be kicked out of the International Skating Union if he forced a French judge to cheat at the Olympics, an ISU vice president said Monday.
"As far I know, it is not the first time for Didier to make such pressure. There were other cases in the past," Katsuichiro Hisanaga of Japan said.
Asked whether Gailhaguet should be thrown off the ISU executive council if its members believe judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne's accusation that he urged her to vote for the Russians in pairs skating, Hisanaga replied:
ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta said Gailhaguet would be interviewed by a special commission appointed by the union to get to the bottom of what happened and determine whether Gailhaguet bears responsibility.
"The commission, I think in the next days, will be in a position to disclose to the council something more than we know today," Cinquanta said. "We punished her because she admitted having done this. If Mr. Gailhaguet or another one would admit a mistake we will also punish him."
French Olympic Committee president Henri Serandour did not offer strong support for Gailhaguet when asked whether he should withdraw as France's Olympic team chief.
"For the moment I have not taken a decision. I am looking at how things develop," Serandour said. "What could make me change my mind is the news."
Le Gougne, who has been suspended indefinitely, wanted to tell the ISU her version of what happened. When the 11-member council met in a closed session at a downtown hotel, it did not allow her to appear. But Gailhaguet, a council member, said she would be allowed to speak at another time.
Le Gougne provided the swing vote in a 5-4 decision that gave the gold to a Russian couple over Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. After an outcry -- and accusations of vote-swapping among ice skating judges -- the ISU and International Olympic Committee awarded the Canadians their own gold medals.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the event, Le Gougne told the French sports daily L'Equipe that she had never made a deal involving the pairs competition.
"I judged in my soul and conscience," Le Gougne said in an interview published Monday. "I considered that the Russians were the best. I never made a deal with an official or a Russian judge."
Cinquanta said in a news conference that Le Gougne's admission of wrongdoing came after an interview with him and others that was conducted "extremely professionally."
"I think she was under the best conditions," he said. "Obviously she wasn't happy. But what she said and what she signed was something that she reviewed. She looked at it. She thanked us for having created a very good atmosphere for a rather delicate interview."
If she's changed her mind, Cinquanta said, the ISU will listen to her.
"We have to continue with the investigation because you can't change your mind every day," he said.
Hisanaga also doubted Le Gougne's reversal.
"There is no question she already admitted ... to the pressure," he said.
Asked whether she said the pressure came from Gailhaguet, Hisanaga said, "Yes ... she admitted. He denied it."
"Things happen," he said. "Day after day the story is changed."
Gailhaguet was asked to leave the meeting midway through when other members reviewed Le Gougne's statements that he pressured her to vote for the Russians.
"We had to discuss about him," said Hisanaga, who described Gailhaguet's alleged behavior as "thoughtless."
At the meeting, Hisanaga said, Gailhaguet "totally denied" exerting any influence over Le Gougne.
Told of Hisanaga's comments, Gailhaguet denied ever pressuring any judge.
"Very honestly, if there is someone at the table of the council who had better shut up, I think it is Mr. Hisanaga," he said. "Because Mr. Hisanaga, since he has been vice president of the ISU, has brought about no reform whatsoever, no single positive point for the ISU. Overall, the competence of Mr. Hisanaga is left wanting."
Leaving the news conference, Cinquanta was asked about Hisanaga's comments about Gailhaguet.
"Do you trust Gailhaguet?" Cinquanta was asked.
"So far I have," he said. "Now ..."
Cinquanta stopped and pushed his hands away, gesturing that he wanted to distance himself from Gailhaguet.
Cinquanta unveiled a plan to change the scoring system and use 14 judges instead of nine, with only seven of the votes counting after being chosen randomly by computer. No one, he said, will know which judges' scorecards are being used.
"This system will reduce the possibility of bloc judging," he said.
But Cinquanta wasn't sure whether the reform package would be ready for a vote by the ISU Congress in Japan in June, or whether it would be approved by the two-thirds majority needed. A less radical reform plan was voted down two years ago.
Meanwhile, the scandal raged while other witnesses to Le Gougne's admission of cheating lambasted her sudden denial.
Le Gougne told L'Equipe she was verbally attacked by ISU technical committee chairwoman Sally Stapleford last week in the lobby of the same hotel where the ISU council met Monday, and felt physically threatened because of the way she had voted.
American attorney Jon Jackson, an ISU championship judge, witnessed Le Gougne's outburst, along with Stapleford and two other technical committee members, Walburga Grimm of Germany and Britta Lindgren of Sweden. He said Le Gougne has it all wrong.
"The French judge's characterization of what happened is inaccurate," Jackson said. "Her admission was unsolicited, unequivocal and clear. There's no question about it. It was witnessed by at least four parties."
Jackson also laughed off Le Gougne's assertion that Stapleford came up with the idea that the French judge may have been pressured to vote as she did by Gailhaguet and that Stapleford was part of a Canadian conspiracy to reverse the decision. Stapleford was born in Britain, grew up there and still lives in London, but also has a Canadian passport because her father was Canadian.
"When accusations get that ridiculous, it's an indication that people are running scared," Jackson said.
Stapleford also denied Le Gougne's allegation Monday, saying she saw Le Gougne in the hotel and she "ran off in a very emotional state."
"Obviously, the lady is a very emotional woman," Stapleford said. "I can't say exactly what she said because it's confidential, but it was in the letter I wrote with two others. There were numerous witnesses."
Stapleford said Grimm and Lindgren also signed the letter that was submitted to the referee as required by ISU rules. Jackson said he wrote another letter to Cinquanta and gave a copy to the referee last Wednesday.
For the ISU, the thornier problem is how to stop anything like this from happening again.