NGBs oppose shared Olympic judges

What's at stake... Getty

At the 48th International Ski Congress set for Kangwonland, South Korea, next week, one topic is likely to receive heavy discussion among freestyle ski and snowboard members: the potential for crossover judges to work both freeskiing and snowboarding events at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

As reported here last month, the International Ski Federation (FIS) plans to promote "efficiency and economy" by having one or more judges officiate both sports. This was part of FIS's original proposal to add ski and snowboard slopestyle as well as ski halfpipe to the 2014 Olympic program. That possibility has led many in both sports to question whether such a system would compromise the integrity of the results.

National governing bodies were required to nominate judges from their respective countries to work the 2014 Olympics by May 9. From those nominations, FIS will then select a pool of officials to work the Sochi Winter Games.

In advance of the May 9 deadline, the independent Association of Freeskiing Professionals held a meeting in Whistler, B.C., encouraging athletes to express their opinions on the matter to their national governing bodies. ESPN.com subsequently contacted prominent ski and snowboard federations around the world to find out how they handled the nomination process as well as how they intend to approach the topic in South Korea next week.

Every nation that replied to our queries -- seven in all, representing both the ski and snowboard sides -- disagreed with the potential for crossover judges in 2014. That included the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland. Those that nominated judges for 2014 said they had nominated sport-specific judges as opposed to crossover judges. Most national representatives said they had received input from athletes and coaches advocating for sport-specific officials, and many took that into account when submitting their nominations to FIS.

U.S. Freeskiing and U.S. Snowboarding director Jeremy Forster said he spoke with numerous athletes in both sports and that "it's clear the athletes support sport-specific judges." The U.S.'s nominations to FIS "reflect that position," Forster said.

Marty Toomey, chief executive of Snow Sports New Zealand, echoed Forster's report. "We have no doubt that the crossover judges appointed to Sochi would be of a very high caliber, but when the difference between each step on the podium and fourth place can be so slim athletes need to know that the judging has been accurate," Toomey said. "Our preference is for sport-specific judging -- best athletes in the world being assessed by the best judges in the world -- and we have advocated for the removal of crossover judging at the Sochi Winter Olympics."

When asked which Kiwi athletes had spoken out, Toomey replied: "I'm not going to identify them as crossover judging is in for Sochi unless it's voted down. I don't want any of our guys having targets on their backs for speaking out."

Anders Norin, the slopestyle director of the Swedish Ski Association, said e-mails have been going around between different European slopestyle officials regarding crossover judges. They're concerned, he said.

"Sweden has sent an official 'protest' to bring to the agenda at the FIS meeting coming up in Korea," Norin said. "There is still time to change the decision; we hope they will to listen to all the leading ski associations and the athletes."