There's been an interesting, and heated, discussion out there for the past few weeks about the men's team that Russia is sending to the European Figure Skating Championships. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, let me fill you in.
The Russian Figure Skating Championships took place at the end of the December. Evgeni Plushenko won the title for the tenth time in his career, with former Russian champion Sergei Voronov winning the silver. Plushenko and Voronov were selected for Europeans per the rule that gives the top two finishers automatic berths to the competition.
So here's where it gets dicey. Former Russian champion Konstantin Menshov, who finished third, was overlooked for the third Russian spot at Europeans in favor of Maxim Kovtun, who was fifth. Both skaters have had strong seasons. Menshov, the veteran, has had a career-best season, placing fourth at both of his Grand Prix events. Kovtun, the youngster, has been undefeated in junior international competition, most recently winning the Junior Grand Prix Final.
The decision, which pitted the reemergence of Menshov this season against the potential shown by Kovtun, caused an uproar within the skating community. There was even an appeal, partly endorsed by a few of the top Russian skaters, of the decision, but the decision was ultimately upheld.
But what is the outrage about? There are two issues, and they aren't necessarily interdependent.
The first issue is the rule itself. The decision that was made by the executive committee of the Russian skating federation did not break any rules. Though the top three age-eligible finishers generally receive berths to Europeans, the actual rule only applies to the top two, so the third spot is technically at the discretion of the committee. So the fact that Kovtun was chosen was not in violation of the rules.
The second issue comes down to the parties who were involved. In particular, the influence of Tatiana Tarasova, who choreographs for Kovtun, was stated by numerous parties as the primary reason for the decision. Sounds like the definition of "conflict of interest."
So, setting aside the skaters in question here, the dilemma is - had everyone on the executive committee agreed that Skater B, who finished lower than Skater A, should go to Europeans over Skater A, would that have been ok? A lot of people have invoked the rule of the automatic top two as the issue at hand. But is the real issue the fact that one person, Tarasova, had so much influence that it completely skewed the decision?