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Saturday, February 16, 2002
French say judge should not be scapegoat

Associated Press

PARIS -- French sports officials, newspapers and an Olympic silver medalist said Saturday that it was unfair to blame one French judge for the corruption that pervades figure skating.

"All the titles are decided ahead of time," retired French skater Isabelle Duchesnay told the Le Parisien newspaper. "The corruption is so institutionalized that it had to break out some time."

In 1992, Duchesnay won silver in the ice dance with her brother, Paul, in Albertville, France.

"At Albertville, some officials came to see us before the start of the free program," Duchesnay said. "They said: 'We're sorry, but you'll only get the silver medal.' When you're in this environment, you think it's normal."

Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet said the suspension of judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, accused of misconduct by skating's governing body, highlighted a need to review the entire sport.

The International Skating Union needs to "reflect" on possible changes to avoid a repeat of the scandal that has dominated the Salt Lake City Games, Buffet told Europe 1 radio.

Le Gougne was suspended indefinitely after admitting she was pressured to favor Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, who won gold in pairs figure skating. Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier initially were given the silver.

The IOC decided Friday that the pair would share the gold medal with their Russian rivals.

"It's a good decision," said the president of the French National Olympic Committee, Henri Serandour.

"I am delighted for the Canadians and in the name of sporting morality," Serandour said in Saturday's edition of French sports daily L'Equipe. "As for Madame Le Gougne, I said from the start of this affair that if there was malpractice, there should be punishment."

Serandour said he hoped the affair would "serve as an example because, for a very long time, we have known the recurring sickness that has sapped skating. Let's hope action to remedy it will follow."

L'Equipe said the judge was being treated as a scapegoat.

"It is hypocritical of the international federation to use the French judge as a scapegoat to disguise the corruption of a system of which (ISU President Ottavio) Cinquanta is perfectly aware," the paper said.

Duchesnay, who runs a skating school and judges professional competitions, said judges are swayed by offers of free trips by national skating federations.

"It's not a coincidence that now it's the Russians and Americans who dominate skating," Duchesnay said. "These two federations are the richest and have the means to finance the skullduggery."

Speaking on French television Saturday night, French skating federation president Didier Gailhaguet repeated that the organization had not exerted pressure on any judges.

"We have never tried to influence the rankings," he told France 2.

Gailhaguet acknowledged that within the sport there are "attempts to influence" judges. "It's nothing new," he said, but he denied that French skating officials were ever implicated.