“There are problems of physical and mental coaching abuse in figure skating and always have been.” Interview with Director General of Russian Figure skating federation Alexander Kogan
Interview with Director General of Russian Figure skating federation Alexander Kogan.
source: russian.rt.ru dd. 22d July 2022 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya
The issue of admitting Russians to international competitions still depends on the position of the IOC, Alexander Kogan, Director General of the Russian Figure Skating Federation (FFKKR), said in an interview with RT. According to him, positive progress in this direction is not observed. The functionary also explained how the ISU refused Russian judges in level-up, told why the process of changing citizenship by Russians is not yet becoming widespread, and acknowledged the problem of physical abuse by coaches.
I’ll start with a burning one: how good is the perspective of Russian skaters to return to the international level and does it depend at least to some extent on the actions of the FFKKR?
Alexander Kogan: I think that the situation, if it changes in this direction, will be in sports in general, and not in some individual federations. After all, even now it is clear that, with the exception of a couple of other sports, no global changes are taking place. Much will depend on the position of the International Olympic Committee on this issue. After all, most international federations receive significant amounts of money from the IOC, some presidents of international federations are members of the organization or other sub-organizations associated with it, and for these reasons do not want to enter into conflict. To a large extent, this also depends on the independence of the leaders of the international federations and their ability to defend their point of view.
But you can look at the situations mentioned as a precedent: the International Judo Federation did not support the sanctions, there is a great chance that Russian athletes will be admitted to the World Championships in wrestling, in tennis, in the NHL they are very concerned not to lose Russian players, and it seems that such shifts can begin, first of all, where the show, that is, business, suffers without Russian representatives. And figure skating definitely can be named here.
Alexander Kogan: The number of views of the latest World championships (both senior and junior) in our sport really fell, moreover, many began to talk about it. ISU’s financial losses were discussed at a recent congress, and I think they may increase compared to current forecasts for the next three years. Television, as you rightly said, needs shows where there are serious athletes, serious rivalry, and I myself heard from representatives of a number of large national federations that they were not interested in the last World Championships, despite the fact that their athletes won some medals there. There was no this competitive idea. Therefore, I would like to hope that common sense will prevail in the new leadership of the ISU. It is no coincidence that we were suddenly very actively asked to give at least some of our skaters to other countries.
This became especially true after the decision to raise the age minimum. This measure will not hit hard big countries, but it will hit small ones. Unfortunately, such proposals, which are not very well thought out in terms of consequences, come from those countries where there are many judges, many functionaries, but figure skaters can be counted on the fingers. And as a result, representatives of these countries began to simply replace one of the main ideas of sports: they were not thinking of developing the sport in their country, working for athletes, but coming up with some abstract deeds and projects that would allow them to remain involved in the process and be visible.
Don’t you think that we are all now going through a time when priorities in sports are very actively changing in favor of mythical equality of opportunity? Hence the admission of transgender people to competitions, attempts to artificially equalize everyone in rights through some kind of bans and changes in the rules …
Alexander Kogan: We are returning to the question of why sport exists at all. Someone looks at it as the quintessence of a healthy lifestyle, although everyone has understood long ago that professional sports do not bring any health to a person. But outstanding achievements can give a tremendous impetus to people’s desire to go in for sports, to bring their children in sport sections. Look at the influx of figure skating now. And this is because we have our own champions.
Or maybe the whole thing is in the television project of Ilia Averbukh “Ice Age”?
Alexander Kogan: I don’t think so. A similar project was launched in the USA long before it started in our country. And where are the American skaters? Only now, largely thanks to Nathan Chen, the Americans began to improve the situation in men’s single skating. Do you seriously think that by providing figure skating with mythical gender and racial equality, we will attract someone to our sport? Hardly. Everyone wants to see a real fight, and most importantly, this is what television wants. The scheme is simple: television is sponsors, sponsors are money. No money, no sport.
With the beginning of anti-Russian sanctions, some international federations have taken a rather curious position. Without officially voicing the ban on the participation of our athletes in competitions, they present the situation that they are very worried about their safety, which is why they do not recommend coming to their championships.
Alexander Kogan: In figure skating it was different. We were immediately informed that at the moment we are suspended from all ISU competitions and this decision is not discussed. But an interesting question: when one country or another invites our skaters or coaches to give master classes abroad, for some reason no one even thinks about any security. As well as the fact that the mental health of children may suffer from unwanted communication with Russians if we suddenly send our athletes to them in the country. And at competitions, it turns out, this question is put almost at the forefront.
Was the situation that happened to Russian judges who failed to pass the international advanced training exam unexpected for you?
Alexander Kogan: It could be predicted. Unfortunately, we all had an opportunity to feel how strongly sport is now politicized. I will not name names, but at the congress in Thailand I personally spoke with some ISU leaders and asked them to pay attention so that there would be no openly biased attitude towards Russian judges at the exam in Frankfurt. And I received 100% guarantees that there would be no bias. In fact, everything turned out to be completely different. I know the situation well from the inside, which is why I speak so confidently about it.
Can you at least give a general outline?
Alexander Kogan: It was not an exam for licensing, but for advancing judges to higher positions, raising their category. All our specialists passed the recertification stage online, and there were no problems with this. And the promotion exam is conducted internally and consists of three equivalent parts. During the theory test, the judges had to answer a large number of questions, and all our judges passed this test brilliantly.
The second stage is the identification of elements and their levels of complexity from the screen during the performances of athletes within the framework of certain competitions. This part is quite difficult, especially for beginners, since there is no way to watch the recording again and clarify some points. But even taking into account the above, the effectiveness of the responses of Russian specialists amounted to about 95%, while the norm was 75%.
The third part is the work of technical controllers in the team. The examinees are seated in a position with two other judges from different countries, and each person does exactly the same job as in the competitions. With the only difference being judged from the screen. Accordingly, people must not only determine the elements and levels of difficulty, but also justify their actions, explain why they gave certain marks.
This stage, which, between us, is the least objective, our judges did not pass. At the same time, they corrected the mistakes of partners. There were no complaints about knowledge, they were told that they needed to work more in a team and increase their work experience … But this part of the exam was passed by those who made a large number of mistakes during refereeing and have two or three competitions a year with a limited number of participants …Can we talk about objectivity?!
The examination committee did not even take into account the fact that our judges serve up to 20 different competitions throughout the season, including the largest ones, evaluate a huge number of high-class athletes both in our country and abroad, that is, they really have tremendous experience.
I have repeatedly heard that Alexander Lakernik, when he was the first vice-president of ISU, promoted Russian judges very much, gave them the opportunity to often travel to international competitions, thanks to which our federation developed. Don’t you think that with his departure, our figure skating could be avenged for this too?
Alexander Kogan: I would not say that Alexander Rafailovich somehow especially zealously promoted Russia. First of all, he ensured equal treatment of all judges, regardless of the country represented by this or that judge. Therefore, I would not say that under Lakernik our specialists began to judge a lot, but that they received the same opportunities as colleagues from the same USA, Canada or Australia.
How difficult can the process of returning Russian representatives to the ISU be?
Alexander Kogan: It will take a lot of effort, of course. After the congress in Thailand, many people told me and our delegates who were elected to certain posts, they say, understand us correctly, we are not voting against you personally, but simply received certain instructions from above in relation to Russia as a whole. Some even apologized for being forced to do so. This was the most offensive – to understand that people with whom you communicated quite normally for many years suddenly have turned into puppets: on command, they turned in the other direction and did what they were told.
What will happen to spots when Russian skaters return to international ice?
Alexander Kogan: For now, this is an open question. Unlike China, we did not refuse to participate in the World Championships ourselves. Therefore, of course, we will fight for the restoration of all our rights. Just before raising this issue, you need to wait for permission.
At the moment, there are certain levers that regulate the transition of athletes from one country to another. Do you admit that at some point the ISU may lift all quarantine restrictions altogether? Declare transfer windows open and give Russian skaters the green light?
Alexander Kogan: I don’t think that the ISU Council, headed by the new president, will violate its own constitution, which very clearly spells out the rules for the transfer of athletes. In this regard, we are still constantly interacting with a number of countries, including the so-called unfriendly ones, despite all the difficulties of the current moment. By the way, I can say that we receive quite a few requests for the return of athletes to the country. Moreover, many of these requests have already been granted.
Why did people want to return?
Alexander Kogan: Someone’s partner finished skating, and it turned out that no one needed the remaining skater, someone ran out of money, but there were no sponsors. There are different stories. There are those who simply rush around the world in search of a better life. In the abstract, a person today asks us for a release to move to Germany, in two months he already wants to go to Hungary, and after some time – to Estonia. For me, this first of all says that the athlete does not want to skate, but simply leave the country.
Well, why not let them go?
Alexander Kogan: Because there are certain obligations to the federations – both Russian and regional, to the club, to your coach, finally. Fulfilled them – go wherever you want. What is the problem?
Did the resonance around the hypothetical transition of Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin to the American flag surprise you?
Alexander Kogan: Rather, I was surprised by how powerfully the information thrown by the American blogger was promoted by the forces of our own journalists. How it was done, I didn’t like it at all. Collecting gossips is, in my opinion, the last thing a professional sports journalist should do.
I’ll be honest with you, I was much more surprised by the very fact of such a stormy discussion around a duet of a fairly average level.
Alexander Kogan: This dance pair is the medalist of the National Championships. They have shown significant progress, as many Russian and foreign experts say. And a heated discussion about their personal life, which, apparently, is largely due to the names of their parents, is of no interest to me.
But if we think abstractly and assume that after some time Davis and Smolkin still want to skate for the USA, will this be a loss for the FFKKR?
Alexander Kogan: I think that the transition of any pair, as well as any athlete of the level of the national team, in this case would be a loss.
Sorry for money invested in training?
Alexander Kogan: Rather, it is a pity for the time and effort that the coaches spent on ensuring that the athletes achieved a certain result.
There is another point: does anyone care what will happen to these athletes next? Name at least someone who would go under a different flag and achieve more than in Russia. I don’t think it will be that easy.
Why did the Canadians withdraw their request for a release for Natalia Zabijako, do you know?
Alexander Kogan: No. This is their problem, not ours.
How strictly will the participation of the country’s leading figure skaters in the Russian Grand Prix series be regulated?
Alexander Kogan: We have already gone through the experience of a covid year, when Russia became the only country in the world that retained all its competitions and representation at each of the domestic competitions. This season we will act according to the same scheme: the strongest will be seeded in such a way that the stages will turn out to be equivalent and interesting. We are planning fairly high prize money, including for juniors, so we hope that the overall level of the competitions will be solid. Moreover, all of them will take place in good palaces, with spectators, with television. We hope this format will be interesting for both athletes and spectators. It is impossible to develop a sport without having competitions.
At all domestic competitions, regardless of which country we are talking about, judging is usually as loyal as possible. But then they will have to return to international sports and they will be evaluated differently. Is it possible to prepare athletes for this? Make the judging as strict as possible, for example?
Alexander Kogan: It’s always a double-edged sword. We always judge test skates, both junior and senior, as harshly and meticulously as possible. This has been done over the past years, and it will be the same now (the test skates are scheduled for September 24-25. – RT ). As for competitive performances, technique has always been judged harshly in our competiitons. But in terms of components, we have a situation where the entire reward system has changed globally. By the way, our judge Alla Shekhovtsova also took an active part in the development of this system. And it’s a shame that because of her belonging to Russia, she was not included in the list of moderators for judging components. But we will ask Alla Viktorovna to conduct a corresponding seminar at the All-Russian Seminar of Judges. We have yet to implement the new component system, and I don’t think that any of the judges will set themselves the task of being loyal.
I can’t help but ask one more question: in the interviews of the skaters and their parents over the past months, the topic of physical and mental coaching abuse has been raised several times. In your opinion, does the problem exist or is it largely contrived?
Alexander Kogan: There are problems of this nature in figure skating and always have been. Naturally, this is not normal, and at the last executive committee we decided to create an ethics commission. Our lawyers are already developing a special code that will apply to all participants in the process: athletes, coaches, staff, competition organizers, and so on. Before that, we only had a code of ethics for sports referees.
What measures will be taken in relation to the coach if he allows himself to hit or insult a child?
Alexander Kogan: Unfortunately, the coaching profession in our country is not a licensed activity, so we cannot take away a license from a coach. But the toughest measures will be taken.
Does it break you personally when such information becomes public through the press?
Alexander Kogan: It breaks me the very fact that such things happen. It’s just that any process is always two-way. If an athlete and his parents are ready to listen to swearing in training, if they allow themselves to be treated boorishly, then, probably, there is no need to make claims to someone else. Sometimes parents themselves, in their desire for their child to achieve certain results, behave not quite tactfully towards their children, or even engage in assault.
This is a complex topic, in fact, in which one cannot go too far. I know that in America the same Rafael Harutyunyan works, holding a handle from a hockey stick in his hands. And on this stick, he shows the athletes where and how to lean, how to turn around … This is unlikely to have a positive effect on the athlete, but it is safe for the coach.
So the late Igor Moskvin said: the first thing America teaches is to go on the ice in motorcycle gloves so that, God forbid, you don’t touch the skater with your bare hand.
Alexander Kogan: Agree, this is also an extreme. Especially in figure skating, where every gesture must be worked out, right down to the position of the fingers. But what are we left to do? Just keep moving forward, overcome this too.
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