Before TV popularized it, Figure Skating was, along with tennis, the playground of the upper economic strata in America, the forks who belonged to country clubs… a few of which owned ice rinks. Daughters who skated also played tennis and maybe rode horses. They became debutantes at 18 and went of to Swarthmore or Vassar for ‘finishing.’ And their fathers, some of whom skated as well, provided the management of U.S. Figure Skating. That was especially the case in the Northeast, where the sport had its American birth. The ‘Amateur Status’ rules of Olympic sport excluded anyone who earned money from sport. And those mostly upper level business and professional people not only contributed to the finances of the sport; they paid their own expenses for attending meetings, judging competitions and the like. It was seen as a duty.
That was not only figure skating; that was the America of that time; roughly the early twentieth century. Sport was no necessity; it was a voluntary pleasure, so if an expensive sport was wanted, its practitioners had to provide it for themselves. Certainly, nobody owed it to them However, as rinks were built and the sport spread and became a subject of movies courtesy of Olympic skater/actress Sonja Henie, the presence or absence of athletic talent became more visible in competitions. A degree of fame began to accompany winning and promising but poor kids began to be subsidized by the wealthy families interested in the sport.
America itself was evolving its Progressive socio-political concepts; it began subsidizing Olympic sports, creating the United States Olympic Committee and providing it tax subsidies. Pro sports, heretofore a backwater but for baseball, grew and player salaries improved. Figure skating coaches stopped calling their students: “Sir” or “Miss” and stopped using the rinks’ back door. They lost their customary tips at Christmas, however. And while this was happening, the management of U.S. Figure Skating passed from the hands of the wealthy into those of a wider spectrum of the American population.
This happened as TV increased the sports’ income and these new and often, less wealthy managers, while willing to contribute their time and knowledge, weren’t about to pay their own travel and living expenses attending figure skating business meetings or judging competitions. Besides, the majority of practitioners were no longer the wealthy and it was regarded as unfair for the sport to be managed by a small group of wealthy men. And so, the sport’s management became more representative, more expensive, more political and less businesslike.
This evolution occurred in parallel to a similar evolution in the greater society. The ‘amateur’ concept disappeared from sport, major politicians were no longer mainly products of prominent families and ‘fairness’ required opening previously closed opportunities to those who previously couldn’t afford them. If you were a figure skating judge or official, you became ‘entitled’ to free trips to nice places as Congressfolk feel entitled to their junkets. The older idea of contributing the service at your own cost, was gone, replaced by the notion that by providing service, you became entitled to goodies.
The logically predictable result of this is the present financial position of the sport. The International Skating Union that manages world competition and U.S. Figure Skating that manages it in America, are both defunded following the retreat of television that followed falling ratings. Television no longer pays fees to the sport. The managers are still spending at levels similar to the past, shrinking the investments they built up in better times. That of course, is unsustainable. But without the spending, there are no free trips to nice places, expenses paid for meetings and competitions, subsidies for selected skaters or any of the other goodies. So the spending continues as the investments shrink.
Any resemblance by the management of the sport of figure skating to the governments of Europe and the United States is purely coincidental… isn’t it?