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With a month to go before the start of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound has sparked a controversial debate about one of the Games' highest-profile events - figure skating.

Pound, speaking to reporters in Vancouver, said the sport faces a potential conflict of interest because Olympic judges are appointed by national federations and not by the sport's international governing body, the International Skating Union.

"Your judges are appointed by national federations and are beholden to them for being there," said Pound, who is also a member of the board for the Vancouver Games' organizing committee (VANOC).

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"They have to judge the way their national federations want them to judge."

He also attacked the practice of keeping marks from individual judges secret - even though the reason for that is so judges will not be accountable for their marks to the national federation that appointed them.

Asked directly by The Globe and Mail if anonymity in judging was a problem, Pound said in an e-mail, the allegation was "correct. ... If the scoring is anonymous, there is no accountability."

Pound, a Canadian lawyer, has long been a skeptic about the integrity of figure skating judging - with history to back him. At the 1998 Nagano Games, a judge in the dance event tape-recorded another judge trying to preordain the results. Pound said that ice dancing should be stripped of its status as an Olympic event unless it could clean up the perception that its judging is corrupt.

Pounds remarks were met with a strong rebuttal from William Thompson, the chief executive officer of Skate Canada.

"It's clear to me he has not got a complete understanding of how the scoring system works now," Thompson said. "Truthfully, I think those are irresponsible comments."

If there is any hint of scandal at an event, the ISU can check to see what scores a judge gave, Thompson said.

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"There are checks in place that look at the marks given by judges," he said. "If a bias is detected, they do reveal who that judge is, and that judge is sanctioned. It is not like there is no accountability."

Pound would prefer the ISU select judges for major competitions such as the Olympics and world championships. Under the current system, the ISU randomly picks which countries will be represented on a panel for a particular event, but each country appoints its own judges to fill those spots.

"In my opinion the ISU should appoint officials on the basis of demonstrated capability," he said. "You are an ISU judge. You are not a Canadian judge. You have no nationality. And, you have to be accountable for your marks, not hide under some shield of anonymity."

In the past couple of years, the ISU has mixed up judging panels from one portion of the event to the next, making it more difficult to potentially rig a competition.

A scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games involving Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier resulted in a drastic change in how points are awarded in figure skating.

The old system in which a skater could be awarded a top score of 6.0 was erased. There also are 12 judges now instead of nine. The new system is more complicated and uses computers. Point values are assigned to certain moves.

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"The criteria has been tightened up, the judgment is clear as to what it is you are looking for," Thompson said. "There is always going to be some scope of subjectivity in our sport because it is not a timed sport.

"You will never fully eliminate that. However, I think there is a number of things in the new system he does not seem to be aware of that really make those comments not true."

Pound said the changes don't solve all the potential problems. "The electronic system relies on a judge pushing a button," he said. "The mechanics don't dispose of the conflicts."

The new judging system was used at the 2006 Turin Games but Pound isn't convinced it has removed the potential for controversy at the Vancouver Olympics.

"Any time there is a competition judged on that kind of basis, the possibility exits," he said. "The stakes in the Olympics are so enormous that the risks are high at the judging level."

The former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency also told reporters in Vancouver he can't guarantee that every medal won at the 2010 Games will be given to a drug-free athlete, despite advances in science. However, he said cheaters are more likely to get caught than in the past, and added if they do get caught, they will have failed two tests: "the doping test and the IQ test."

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