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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 14:00 GMT

Figure skating in the dock

BBC Sport Online's Neil Hall examines whether figure skating deserves its role as an Olympic sport.

Figure skating is not a sport to shy away from controversy, especially during an Olympic year.

The awarding of the gold medal to the Russian pairing rather than to the Canadians has ensured that 2002 is no different.

It is a decision that has rocked the sport to its core, forcing the International Skating Union to launch an inquiry into the judging.

Figure skating's shame
2002 Outcry as Russian pair win gold in Utah
1999 Judges suspended after row at world championships
1998 Canadian pair claim Russia and France conspired against them at Nagano Games

In a sport reliant upon subjectivity to decide its winners and losers, any doubts about the neutrality of the judges discredits it almost entirely.

And this is not the first cry of foul in the sport's recent history.

At the last Olympics in Nagano another Canadian pair contended that Russia and France had conspired to keep them off the medals podium.

And at the 1999 world championships two pairs judges were suspended after TV footage appeared to show them talking before the results were announced.

Such a turbulent recent history, which includes the notorious Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scandal, must put the International Olympic Committee in an awkward position.

The Olympics strives to uphold its image as a paragon of sporting virtues, a persona hard to maintain when the validity of its success stories can be called into question.

It is no wonder IOC chief Francois Carrard admitted to being "concerned" about the events, before distancing the organisation from any responsibility for the judging process.

Even the veteran US coach Frank Carroll admitted no-one would be able to blame the IOC if it abandoned the sport.

And many commentators have called for reform into the way the event is judged.

But it is difficult to see how controversy can be avoided.

Sports with subjectivity at their heart, are always liable to, at the very least, human error as well as more sinister manipulation.

It is impossible for a judge to be 100% impartial as, to a greater or lesser extent, they bring their own preconceived expectations and experiences.

But this is something the panel of judges system is supposed to counteract.

And a whole host of the events at the Winter Olympics are reliant upon similar types of scoring system, without generating anywhere near as much controversy.

Figure skating clearly needs to clean up its image to restore some credibility to the sport.

Maybe then, as Canada consoled itself with conspiracy theories, we would all be happy to believe the best pair had won - or that at worst it had been a simple mistake.

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