Vanessa-Mae banned from skiing over Olympic race-fixing
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Pop violinist Vanessa-Mae was banned from competitive skiing for four years on Tuesday for taking part in races that were fixed to allow her to qualify for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The findings by the International Ski Federation exposed as a sham what many fans thought was a feel-good celebrity Olympic story.
FIS also banned five race officials from Slovenia and Italy for between one and two years for their role in the scandal.
“Those who have been sanctioned have been sanctioned for good reason,” FIS President Gian Franco Kasper told The Associated Press. “At first we were laughing when we heard it. But then we realized it’s quite a serious thing.”
FIS said its hearing panel “found to its comfortable satisfaction” that the status of four women’s giant slalom races were manipulated in January in Slovenia, a few weeks before the games.
FIS detailed several rule-breaking incidents that rigged results to help the then 35-year-old Vanessa-Mae falsely improve her racer status near the OIympic entry deadline.
Without the cheating orchestrated by her managers, Vanessa-Mae “would not have achieved the necessary FIS point performance level to be eligible to participate in the Olympic Winter Games,” the governing body said.
In February at the Sochi Games, the celebrity musician who was raised in Britain raced for Thailand as Vanessa Vanakorn, using the last name of her Thai father. She finished last of 67 racers in the two-run giant slalom, more than 50 seconds behind gold medalist Tina Maze of Slovenia.
Vanessa-Mae can appeal the rulings to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“But it doesn’t make much difference for her,” Kasper said. “She was racing (the Olympics) probably only once and that’s all. But in any case we prevented her from being at the next Olympics.”
The next Winter Games are in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. FIS said it informed the International Olympic Committee, which can disqualify Vanessa-Mae from the Sochi Olympics.
The IOC declined to comment on details of the case until possible appeals are completed.
“Should the judgment be confirmed the IOC will act on this in the framework of its policy of protecting the clean athletes, with zero tolerance towards the manipulation of results and any related corruption,” the Olympic body said in a statement.
IOC President Thomas Bach was photographed with Vanessa-Mae in Sochi and later appointed her to a working group meeting helping shape future policy for the Olympic movement.
FIS said the scam involved falsely inflating the quality of four qualifying races to artificially boost Vanessa-Mae’s standing as a potential Olympian.
Race rigging included inventing times for skiers who did not race and faking times for lower-quality skiers who did finish.
“A previously retired competitor with the best FIS points in the competition took part for the sole purpose of lowering the penalty to the benefit the participants in the races,” FIS said.
Race officials also broke rules by not changing the course design between the first and second runs, and allowing skiers to continue in poor weather which required abandonment.
“The competitions were organized at the request of the management of Vanessa Vanankorn, through the Thai Olympic Committee in its capacity as the FIS member National Ski Association,” skiing’s governing body said.
It is unclear if Thai Olympic officials were involved in the scam, or if they will face IOC sanctions.
“First you would have to figure out if the Thai Olympic Committee was really involved, and we have some doubts,” said Kasper, who is an IOC member.
The scandal was made public in July, several weeks after the IOC appointed Vanessa-Mae to an advisory group on cultural policy. The Slovenian ski federation punished officials and sent a report to FIS.
The FIS ruling council will decide on annulling the fixed races at a meeting next Tuesday.