LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland — Accepting that Tokyo could not host the World Figure Skating Championships next week, the sport’s governing body stepped up efforts Monday to find a new venue and dates for its marquee event.
The International Skating Union is expected to announce a backup plan this week after giving up hopes — initially shared with Japanese organizers — to proceed as planned after Tokyo’s Yoyogi stadium escaped damage in Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Instead, the ISU made the inevitable ruling — backed by federations including the United States, Canada and France — to postpone the March 21-27 worlds, and the World Team Trophy scheduled to be held in Yokohama on April 14-17.
ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta said it took account of “critical developments” in Japan, including emergencies at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
“The ISU’s primary concern (is) for the safety of all participants, spectators and members of concerned entities as well as the travel advisories from many governments to avoid travel to Japan until the situation is settled,” Cinquanta said in a statement, one day after expressing skating’s sympathy at Japan’s “monstrous natural disaster.”
Though Cinquanta said rescheduling in Tokyo was still an option, officials at ISU headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, spent the day in calls with potential replacements.
The ISU declined to name candidates or the guarantees it seeks, but requirements are expected to include commitment from a national broadcaster, experience in hosting and a fan base which could respond strongly to buy tickets at short notice.
Cinquanta’s native Italy has a possible candidate in 2006 Olympic host Turin, which also hosted the figure skating worlds last year.
South Korea staged the junior worlds for the ISU at Gangneung this month, and might appreciate another chance to show its hosting skills since Pyeongchang is bidding for the 2018 Winter Games. It could also guarantee strong fan support, with Olympic champion Kim Yu-na having planned to make her season debut at the worlds. Kim is a huge star in her native country, and South Koreans relish any opportunity to see her compete.
The ISU should decide on the event’s status “in the next few days,” according to U.S. Figure Skating.
The American federation has offered “any and all assistance” but has not yet been asked to offer a venue.
The uncertainty has left skaters unsure how to prepare for their biggest event of the year, but aware that their problems are nothing compared to Japan’s.
Skate Canada director Mike Slipchuk said the team, including men’s gold medal favorite Patrick Chan and reigning world and Olympic dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, was updated in calls Monday.
“Our group was receptive to (the ISU decision) and understand what happened,” Slipchuk told The Associated Press. “Sport is important in our kids’ lives and skating is a big part. But when they see what’s happening over the past few days, it puts things in perspective.
Competing in Tokyo could “no longer be a sporting celebration,” said the French skating body, which has worked with its government to bring European men’s champion Florent Amodio home from training on the Japanese island of Kyushu.
“The French federation reiterates its full confidence in the ISU and its president to take the right decisions,” it said in a statement.
Only once since 1947 has a figure skating world championships been canceled, after an American tragedy.
In 1961, the entire U.S. team, coaches and family members were on their way to the worlds in Prague when their plane crashed as it was about to land in Brussels. All 72 people on board were killed, including the 34 Americans. The worlds were canceled, and held in Prague the next year.
Slipchuk said Japan’s tragedy outweighed a single sports event.
“We hope there is a possibility for worlds and these skaters can compete,” he said. “But if not, there’s a world championship next year.”