Olympics: Is Favoritism Still a Problem?

An attempt to reform the judging process in Olympic figure skating probably backfired, reports a study in the Journal of Sports Economics. Continue reading →

In 1998 and 2002, the skating world was rocked by vote-trading scandals during the Olympics. In response, the International Skating Union revised its judging system, and the controversy calmed down. But a new study finds that there's actually more favoritism under the reformed system.

Olympics: How U.S. Athletes Fool Their Bodies

One of the changes in the system involved no longer revealing which judge issued which score. But instead of discouraging vote trading, economist Eric Zitzewitz of Dartmouth University found it increased by about 20 percent. That's enough to change the results of a close competition, he wrote in his study published in the Journal of Sports Economics.

Zitzewitz analyzed three sets of data. In the first set he looked at 16 competitions from 2000 to 2002. In the second he looked at 23 events from 2002 to 2004 - after the rule change that judges' scores be kept secret. And in the third set he analyzed data from 107 events between 2003 to 2009 that included more complex rule changes.

Olympic Figure Skating Stymied by Body's Limits

In Sochi, as in past Olympics, skating's national federations selected judges. Other sports, like ski jumping, have the sport's central committee choose judges. To make things fair, Zitzewitz suggests going back to disclosing each judge's marks. He also recommends an independent review committee that could access a database to check for favoritism.

Photo: Russian pair Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze perform in the 2002 Olympics. Credit: Wikimedia Commons