Friday, May 06, 2011

To be or not to be…that is the question…

PS Magazine May/Jun 2011

Here’s another one - to skate or not to skate…compete or not to compete. As I write this, a decision was made regarding the staging of the 2011 World Championships … I’m glad I didn’t have to make it…talk to twelve people and get twelve different opinions. From a humanitarian position, this is a tragedy of epic proportions and regardless of the decision to compete or not to compete; someone will be disappointed, if not enraged, and some will be relieved.

Some pundits felt that the competition should have been cancelled out of respect for the Japanese people. I can see that point; the precedent was set when the ISU cancelled the 1961 championships in response to the loss of the entire US delegation. The ISU president in 1961 was Dr. James Koch. Even with a request from the US that the championships go on as scheduled, Dr. Koch and the executive committee voted to cancel the competition. The vote of the committee was not unanimous. As reported in various American newspapers and in Patricia Shelly Bushman’s “Indelible Tracings”, Dr. Koch said, “The tragedy is too enormous to go on…” Later, when visiting the United States, Dr. Koch told Michael Kirby that no sporting event should ever trump a tragedy.
On the other hand, Phil Hersch of the Chicago Tribune who is on record wanting to cancel Worlds pointed out, “… that World Series games took place in New York less than two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that the 1972 Munich Olympics continued after the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.”
Reigning U.S. Women’s Champion, Alissa Czisney had this to say in a blog about cancelling the event:
“My sincere hope is that this is the last option. From a skater's perspective, skating is our career, our job, our livelihood, and canceling worlds would disrespect all the hard work we have put in… have you canceled your job, your work, due to the tragedy? Most likely, you have continued on with your work, while doing your best to help our friends in Japan. I only ask that we might be given the same opportunity to continue on with our work, while at the same time doing what we can to honor those in Japan and helping as much as we are able.”
I remember the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics and how upset I would have been if that been the winter games.
I think the hardest part is to truly understand what was at stake. While Alissa and her fellow competitors have worked their whole lives for this moment, the decision to cancel or move the competition is going to be about money and pride as much as it is about the skaters. These events are expensive and complicated…to host as well as compete in. Can you imagine how many contracts there are: hotels, arenas, travel, television, media, and sponsorship and more? The LOC has contracts, ISU does and how about all the competitors who have commitments to tour? Yu Na Kim has her own show and the Canadian an US tour of Stars are filled with top skaters. Those contracts represent millions of dollars!
In comparison, if you have ever purchased a house and have attended a closing, you have a general idea on the amount of paperwork that goes into it. Can you imagine the amount of paperwork when the dollars are around 20 million mark and you have to come to terms with so many stake holders? Yikes!
Another matter to consider is that of cultural customs. In Japan, the loss of face from having someone else host the championships would be extremely important to their society. Face is a mark of personal dignity and the Japanese will try never to do anything to cause loss of face.
But what about if this scenario involved the US or Russia? In Russia; they are proud of their country. They accept that their lives are difficult and pride themselves on being able to thrive in circumstances that others could not. Would they allow the competition to be moved anywhere else? Probably not.
“The show must go on” would be the rallying cry in the US. We would also say, “Time is money.” A decision would be made very quickly, and if all possible the competition would move forward. As a practicable note though, if we needed to move the event out of the US we would do it. It’s not that our beliefs are better than anyone else’s. As with our personal liberties that we enjoy here, the needs of the skaters come first.
The truly amazing thing is that multiple countries stepped up to the plate, organizing bids that included available dates in April or May, a main arena with a MINIMUM of 8,000 seats, 700 available hotel rooms, and provide the TV production and signal ``free of charge'' to the ISU and its TV rights holders. Phil Hersch reported that “…a person familiar with TV production of figure skating said that would cost between $1 million and $2 million, and costs likely would move to the higher end…”
When Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became publicly involved, it was almost certain that Russia would be awarded the bid. Sure enough, Moscow was awarded the competition and as you are receiving this issue, World’s is over. I guess you could say pride overcame the money.