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Saturday, 16 February, 2002, 22:49 GMT

France urges judging reform

The focus of the Olympic 'Skategate' scandal has shifted to France, where sports officials said on Saturday that the sport was in need of a clean-up.

French Sports Minister Marie-Georges Buffet said the controversy over the Olympic figure skating pairs event had marred the Winter Games.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Buffet urged for a complete overhaul of the judging system that had allowed Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier to lose out to Russian pair Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze on Monday.

After much pressure from officials and the media in North America, the Canadian duo were awarded gold medals on Friday and French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne was suspended.

"However you look at it, the Olympic games have been sullied by this"
Marie-Georges Buffet
French Sports Minister

Le Gougne, who voted for the Russians on Monday, has been at the centre of the controversy and her future remains in limbo while the International Skating Union (ISU) investigates allegations of misconduct against her.

Buffet said that Le Gougne's suspension highlighted a need to review the sport and "reflect" on possible changes to avoid a repeat of the scandal.

"The events we have gone through call for the ISU to take a look at the way it works, at the way the juries work," said Buffet.

"It's an appeal to get everything out in the open and examine it.

"However you look at it, the Olympic games have been sullied by this."

Le Gougne, who has been attempting to avoid the media glare since Friday's news, has denied her vote was wrongly influenced.

The 42-year-old judge said in a letter to the ISU on Thursday that she had voted according to her conscience.

But Le Gougne, who is expected to appear before the ISU board in Salt Lake City on Monday, had reportedly said before that she was pressured by her country's own skating federation to vote for the Russians.

French federation president Didier Gailhaguet has repeatedly denied the accusation, saying that no pressure had been exerted on any of the judges.

"We have never tried to influence the rankings," he said on French television on Saturday night.

Gailhaguet acknowledged that attempts to influence judges was "nothing new" in the sport, but denied that French skating officials were ever implicated.

While Buffet said she backed a full inquiry into Gougne's influence in the vote, elsewhere the reaction in France was mixed.

French sports daily L'Equipe said the judge was being made a scapegoat and added that Le Gougne had become the "Bin Laden of ice skating" in the American media.

The French ice sports federation also stated that it was unfair to suggest that Le Gougne was the only guilty person in the affair.

Retired French figure skater Isabelle Duchesnay told French daily Le Parisien on Saturday that the sport was riddled with inconsistencies and backroom dealings.

"It has always been like that. All the medals are decided in advance, without the skaters having any say in it."

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