By Nick Butler Exclusive
Tensions are rising here on the eve of an historic vote for a new International Skating Union (ISU) President for the first time since 1994, with leading candidates Jan Dijkema and György Sallak each campaigning furiously.
The Dutch and Hungarian contenders are locked in a four-horse race with Britain’s Chris Buchanan and France’s Didier Gailhaguet, a pair considered outsiders.
Focus centered today around a proposed reception due to be held this evening by the Hungarian National Skating Federation (MOKSZ) in honour of Ottavio Cinquanta, the Italian enjoying his final night as ISU President before stepping down after 22 years.
An invite was circulated to all accredited delegates of the Congress here on Tuesday (June 7), an event billed as a surprise party, although Cinquanta and other leading members of the ISU were believed to be aware of the plans.
Concerns were raised, however, that the event was inappropriate considering Sallak is international relations director of MOKSZ, with it claimed that attending the event would effectively signify a show of support for the Hungarian.
Following a recommendation from their legal department, the ISU announced that they would not sanction the event and Cinquanta would not be able to attend.
Another letter from the MOKSZ, obtained by insidethegames, was then sent to all delegates this morning informing them that the reception had been postponed.
“We respectfully recognise the wish of our President, and will honour him in private for extraordinary 41 years [of involvement in the sport],” said MOKSZ President Lajos Kósa.
“In line with the President’s request, the Thursday evening reception is postponed.”
There is no evidence that the ISU legal decision was taken for any other reason than to avoid a conflict of interest or that the MOKSZ interest in hosting the event was for any reason other than to show their loyalty and support for Cinquanta.
There have been claims, though, that the reception was a last-minute attempt to earn favour from influential ISU officials and showcase Sallak’s campaign and that it was blocked partly in order to help rival candidates.
Sallak is also the ISU development coordinator and has faced a steady stream of criticism of his distribution of funding amid claims he has used it to lobby for his bid.
Certainly some countries, including Hungary, have been heavily funded, while others have received no funding at all.
The ISU voted to scrap the development coordinator position in favour of a more egalitarian commission in what, some claim, is tacit criticism of Sallak.
Several delegates believe that a victory for Sallak tomorrow would be a huge blow for an organisation already widely seen as out-of-step with modern governance and lacking transparency.
Others, however, feel that Sallak is the victim of a witchhunt and believe that he deserves praise for the development work he has undertaken.
A victory for either he or Dijkema, currently the ISU vice-president for speed skating, would continue a 36-year streak of speed skating figures leading the body.
Both Buchanan and Gailhaguet – whose bid is considered highly controversial due to him having returned from a three-year ban from the sport for involvement in a judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City – represent figure skating, but are seen as outsiders lacking sufficient support.
Dijkema has vowed to serve a two-year term before calling fresh elections.
His power-base is thought to be in Western Europe, while Sallak is more popular in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Asia is set to be the major battleground, with Dijkema thought to have much support but Sallak confident he is making inroads.
There are 142 eligible votes to be cast, with countries with one combined National Skating Federation having two votes and those with separate figure and speed skating bodies having one for each.
A two-thirds majority is required for a first-round victory, but, if this is not achieved, all four candidates would be eligible to progress to the second round, where the individual with the most votes would win.
This means that, unlike in International Olympic Committee elections, second preference votes are irrelevant.
A first-round victory for any candidate is thought unlikely, although supporters of Sallak have indicated they are hoping for such an outcome.
Each Presidential candidate will have five minutes to deliver a speech ahead of the election.
Separate elections are also due to take place for the two ISU vice-presidential positions, as well as for five speed skating and five figure skating representatives on the ruling Council.
All votes are expected to take place via an electronic system, despite some concerns having been raised over its effectiveness earlier this week.
Congress discussions finished early today, meaning most of the day has been dedicated to lobbying as delegates have grouped around the reception, swimming pool and meeting rooms of the luxury resort hotel here which bears little in common with a typical winter sporting environment.
Fierce thunderstorms shook the coastline this evening, however, in what may be an omen ahead of a stormy day of decisions tomorrow.