By Patrick Johnston
(Reuters) - International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta has left figure skating at its lowest ebb and must stand down from his role immediately before the sport becomes irrelevant, former double world champion Tim Wood told Reuters.
The American is part of a petition that has gained over 22,000 signatures demanding the former Italian speed skater quit the position he has held since 1994 before he damages it further with more planned changes in his final two years.
Wood, who also won a silver medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, said Cinquanta has undemocratically postponed ISU elections in order to extend his stay in the position and changed the scoring system for the worse by making it confusing for the public and open to corruption.
"If changes are not sweeping and imminently forthcoming, the sport could find itself obsolete and irrelevant," Wood told Reuters this week.
"That is the imminent danger and the first person that needs to be replaced is the guy who has caused all the problems, the guy who has zero understanding of the sport, as he freely admits, and the guy who is completely responsible for the single handed dismantling of the sport... Cinquanta."
The Italian's stint in charge was due to end in June but he and his board postponed elections two years ago until 2016 which has allowed the 75-year-old to continue in office despite reaching the maximum age limit.
The ISU did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.
Cinquanta has grand plans for his final years in power, aiming to end short programs in all figure skating events and simplify a scoring system that he changed in the wake of the 2002 Olympic judging scandal at the Salt Lake City Games.
Wood had little faith, though, and believes the old 6.0 system that was popular with fans should be reinstated.
"The outrageous judging system he enacted was put in place to stop the corruption but because judges are now not disclosed so it has increased the corruption to unprecedented levels, as evidenced by the issues of Sochi women’s event," said Wood, a member of the U.S skating hall of fame.
Figure skating made a swath of negative headlines at the Sochi Olympics in February when Russia's Adelina Sotnikova took a shock gold in the women's event which drew derision outside of the host nation.
The teenager was the only one of the leading trio whose free program contained an obvious mistake - a two-footed landing from a double loop - but the nine-member judging panel declared her a winner with a personal best score just shy of defending champion Kim Yuna's world record.
Two million people have since signed a petition demanding an inquiry but Cinquanta has failed to deliver leaving Wood pessimistic about the chances of his demands being heard.
"Talk about arrogance and lack of transparency," he said of the Italian's silence.
"The judging system is so complicated and so corrupt that the viewing public has no idea of what’s going on."
Thirty years after Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean captivated a global audience with their performance to Ravel's Bolero - an ice dance that earned them a row of perfect 6.0s and a prolonged standing ovation at the Sarajevo Olympics - the sport has lost a lot of its appeal, especially in North America.
Many skaters now seem to be jumping off the same production line, sacrificing artistry while trying to cram their routines with acrobatic tricks that earn them more points under the accumulative scoring system.
Wood pointed out that this has led to a loss in key television revenue streams, and helped the boom of reality shows such as 'Dancing with the Stars' and 'So you think you can dance'.
"Since Cinquanta was a speed skater, he doesn’t like or understand the subjective elements of the creative artistic side of the sport, so the rules were changed to make everything a point system," the 65-year-old Wood said.
"The unintended consequence is that skaters are now just point junkies; whomever does the most tricks, wins.
"The general public tastes and preferences have shifted away from figure skating to the TV world of dance. This move by the public not only depletes revenues but the public has become sophisticated and knowledgeable about movement and creativity.
"Over 40 million people watch those shows. Now they go back and look at figure skating which is pre embryonic in its understanding and knowledge of movement in comparison."
(Reporting by Patrick Johnston, editing by Pritha Sarkar)