Figure Skating Rules Changes and Racism

Awhile back I was hanging out with some friends and for whatever reason the subject turned to figure skating. I know very, very little about figure skating. I find it pleasant enough to watch, but have no idea how the scoring works, no idea what factors contribute to a good performance, and don’t even really know what the organizing bodies are. According to these friends, who are Japanese, recent figure skating rules changes were made to stymie Asian figure skaters. The claim as best I can recall went something like this:

  1. Mao Asada favors a particular rotation in her jumps. I don’t recall if it is clockwise or counterclockwise. The scoring was changed to arbitrarily favor the other direction of rotation.

  2. Figure skaters used to be given two minutes from the time they were called to when they had to appear on the ice. Most don’t use the full two minutes, but a prominent Japanese male figure skater whose name I can’t recall at the moment used the full time to get ready. The time allotment was reduced, hurting his performance.

  3. These rule changes were motivated by anti-Asian racism.

For the record, I am not endorsing this claim, I’m just reproducing it as best I can recall.

My inclination is to dismiss this accusation of racism, it seems awfully flimsy to me, but upon reflection I don’t have anywhere near enough information to make an informed judgement. And since several people all seemed to know about the situation and have similar views, it’s probably not a wildly fringe opinion. So, someone who actually has some knowledge of what’s going on here could you please help me out here. Is there any merit to this claim?

#2 isn’t a new rule for this year; it was introduced last year. (The new rule is, if you’re not ready within 30 seconds after your name is called, it’s a 1-point penalty; if you’re not ready within 60 seconds, you’re disqualified. The first skater after each warmup period gets an extra 30 seconds.)

As for #1, only two jumps had their scores changed from 2014 to 2015; a Triple Toe Loop and a Triple Salchow had their scores increased by 0.2 each. Note that a Triple Loop and a Triple Flip (which is, in effect, a Triple Toe Salchow) were not changed, so it’s not just “rotate in one direction” against “rotate in the other.”

Thank you for the clarification.

Is there a justification for the timing change beyond just speeding things up? Could a reasonable person construe it as targeting one or a few skaters?

My quick looking at Wikipedia seems to indicate that the scoring change gives a boost to the easier jumps over the harder ones. Is that an accurate assessment?

I don’t know enough about figure skating to know which jumps are “easier” and which are “harder”, but since they raised points on two lower-scored jumps rather than lowering points on two higher-scored ones, I would say yes - and remember that jumps (which tend to be the easier ones) done in the second half of a routine get a 10% point bonus.

As for shortening the time you get to get on the ice, I’ll see if I can find out which country requested the rule change in the first place and why, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done to make it easier to fit the final group’s routines within, say, an hour-long block of time for TV purposes. It already takes quite a bit of time for a skater’s scores to appear.

It was submitted by The Netherlands, and the only reason given is, “To speed up competitions.” Keep in mind that this applies to all competitions, including junior and novice ones.

I know nothing about these rules changes but your friends’ claims of anti-Asian racism don’t hold up against the slightest logical examination.

Your friends’ claim No. 1 would seem to be by definition an “anti-Mao Asada” change and not an anti-Asian change, unless your friends are claiming that Asians all rotate in one direction and non-Asians rotate the other. Because if only Mao Asada was affected, there would be countless highly talented young skaters of Asian ancestry from China, South Korea, Japan, the U.S., Canada, etc. who rotate in the “approved direction” to take her place.

Taken another step further, Asada is still a great skater, but at 26 she is nearing the end of her career. She is probably already past her prime, and the idea that the rules now needed to be changed to somehow thwart her dominance is kind of silly.

I also know nothing about the time issue, but it seems unlikely to me that only one professional athlete (the Japanese guy your friends claim as the victim) took advantage of the full amount of time allotted and therefore he is the only one impacted by that change, or (to take the anti-Asian charge to its logical conclusion) that only Asian skaters take advantage of the full amount of time and therefore shortening the time allowed was somehow aimed at Asian skaters.

It sounds to me more like some fans grasping at straws to explain why their favorites came up short at some recent competition or some such.

I thought it was the Australians that rotated the other way.

Is there anti-Asian racism in skating? Sure, it’s quite possible and I might even believe it.

Do your points constitute evidence? Not remotely!


They need to rename figure skating. They eliminated the “figures” part of figure skating many years ago, now.

The main result, of course, was that it emphasizes skaters that jump well. Asian skaters didn’t really come into prominence until then, either. The field was dominated by Soviets and Americans back then, but Japan and China and South Korea have all vastly improved their teams in the last 20 years.

So a case could be made, that taking away the figures was beneficial to Asian skaters.

Of the current top 10 ranked ladies skaters, three are Japanese. Two are Americans. And five are Russians. Including 3 of the top 5.

The #1 spot is currently held by a Japanese skater, Satoko Miyahara, by quite a decent margin.

I heard that it was only ever called that in the English language - in French, for example, it was whatever the French is for “Artistic Skating” (as opposed to speed skating).

The popularity of figure skating has always surprised me, given it has no objective means for scoring (i.e., distance, time)…

That exactly the part that makes it more interesting.

It’s like a Harlem Globetrotters game - nobody really cares about the scoring; they just want to see the performances. This is why the only “exhibition” event at the Olympics is in figure skating. (They briefly tried one for gymnastics, but it wasn’t as popular.)

Everybody has their own idea of who did the “best” performance, and when it turns out that their preferred skater didn’t win - or even, before the new scoring system, when Skaters A and B skated, and B was ahead of A, but then, after C skates, A is now ahead of B - then you get complaints. If they’re loud enough (see the 2002 pairs competition, for example), then changes are made, but, other than that, nobody cares.

I’ve never been a particular fan of figure skating, it was the aftermath of the 2002 controversy that convinced me the whole thing was slightly hinky.