Judges in Olympic figure skating might be favoring their home countries.
NBC News is reporting that they have data that shows judges in Olympic figure skating are biased.
In a pool of 164 judges eligible for this year’s figure skating events at the games in PyeongChang, South Korea, NBC found that many seem to have what could be conflicts of interest.
Thirty three hold or have held leadership positions in the national skating federations for their countries and another is an Italian judge who was sanctioned for peeking at another judge’s scores in 2010.
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NBC also found one Russian judge who has been sanctioned for violations twice, including signaling his preferred order of finish to another judge by tapping his feet and speaking to another judge in Russian. There is also another fellow Russian judge who hugged gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova at the Sochi games in 2014.
Another potential red flag is a Korean judge who told a Korean newspaper before Sochi that she would make sure skaters from her country were “not disadvantaged.”
Each one could end up judging skaters from their respective countries in this year’s Olympics.
Dartmouth economics professor Eric Zitzewitz studied scores from international skating competitions from the last 15 years and told NBC news he consistently found a measurable bias.
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Zitzewitz discovered that in 2016 and 2017, judges added an average of more than three points to skaters from their home country.
“I was finding that the countries that people thought were more corrupt in other dimensions also seem to have more biased figure-skating judging,” Zitzewitz said. “I’m going to sound a little partisan as an American, but if you sort of start from America and go east – the nationalistic bias seems to go up.”
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Ukraine, Russia and South Korea were the worst offenders based on Zitzewitz’s research.
Russia was involved in a controversy at the 2014 Olympics when Sotnikova won.
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After getting the highest scores of her skating career, she skated off the ice and right into the arms of a Russian judge.
Many called for an investigation after she won and defeated the runaway favorite, South Korea’s Yuna Kim. However, complaints were eventually denied by the International Skating Union.
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When asked to comment on NBC’s report, the ISU it has a “robust” procedure for monitoring judges, including penalties for over-marking skaters.
“The cancellation of anonymity makes it possible to trace not only the quality of judging,” the union said, “but also any bias. Judges who make mistakes and/or are over-marking skaters receive a warning and can be penalized by the ISU.”
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The ISU also said it was a “priority to do its utmost to guarantee a fair result” in the PyeongChang games.
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