“A good judge is better than an unbiased one”…?

Russian judge Shekhovtseva hugging Russian gold medalist... demonstration of independence?
Russian judge Shekhovtseva hugging Russian gold medalist… demonstration of independence?

In case you couldn’t tell by the number of figure skating posts I have written earlier, I follow the sport very closely as a judge.

At this year’s Sochi Olympics, the Ladies Free Skating event was filled with public backlash and drama. This is because reigning Olympic champion, Yuna Kim (or Queen Yuna as some of us like to call her) skated two flawless programs and won this year’s silver medal, missing the gold by a large margin to Russian teenager Adelina Sotnikova.

Fueling the outrage was the apparent lack of independence of the judges and officials of the event, most notably Alla Shekhovtseva of Russia and Yuri Blakov of Ukraine. The former judge is married to the head of the Russian figure skating organization and was the judge seen and photographed hugging the gold medal winner moments after the competition. The latter was formally suspended for trying to fix a result during the 1998 Olympics and allegedly has ties to Moscow.

The Korean Olympic Committee has decided this week to file a complaint to the International Skating Union about an alleged breach of the code of ethics during the ladies competition. The KOC and Korean Skating Union are asking for a thorough investigation for the judging composition and whether it was biased toward Russian gold medalist Sotnikova.

The ISU does prohibit judges from judging in competitive events where they have a conflict of interest, a conflict of interest being defined as:

The term “family” as used in this Rule shall be understood as including all persons, who, due to their relationships, may reasonably appear to be in a conflict of interest position regarding a competing Skater, ineligible person or remunerated Coach.

It could be argued that marital ties to the Russian skating federation falls under this definition, calling into question her independence.

As we all know and can appreciate as accountants, independence is one of the core principles of auditing. A statement attesting to the validity of a company’s financial statements means nothing without some reasonable level of independence. Part of the reason this scandal fascinates me so much is how important the concept of independence can be seen (and ignored apparently) in so many areas of the world, most notably in sports.

With the accounting perception in mind, read the following quote made by ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta to the Chicago Tribune the day after the ladies Olympic champion was announced:

“Would you rather have an idiot acting as a judge than a good one who is a relative of the manager of a federation?…It is far more important to have a good judge than a possible conflict of interest.”

Ummm…what? The auditor training in me is cringing. Imagine if a corporation said this about it’s auditors?

To even become entry-level staff on an audit engagement requires a masters degree and a CPA certification, meaning that there will not be any idiots touching your financial statements. Without independence and people believing your attestation is valid and unbiased, there’s no point. It can’t be relied on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *