Jan Dijkema, who as President of the International Skating Union is about to oversee the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama in Japan, was a politician before he was a sporting politician, working as representing the PvdA in the House of Representatives in his native Netherlands until 1994.
But before that, he was a sociologist, having studied that subject at the University of Groningen.
Sociology is characterised as a scientific study of society that develops a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change.
The 74-year-old Dutchman, whose position within the the world governing body was renewed by acclamation at last June’s ISU Congress, thus appears ideally qualified to bring about a process of change and modernisation within his sporting domain - and to understand the pitfalls and problems involved in such a process.
The previous Congress of 2016, where Dijkema was voted in as replacement for the retiring Ottavio Cinquanta, took place behind closed doors. The most recent one was live streamed on the ISU YouTube channel.
That detail says something about the evolution that is currently underway in one of the world’s pre-eminent sporting spheres – an evolution that has parallels throughout world sport, as we have seen most recently with this week’s announcements of change and modernisation within athletics.
But skating, in all its various forms, seems to be gliding on ahead in this process - partly by virtue of sheer circumstance, given that it has been obliged to address the potentially growing issue of how to live with the emergence of rival, independent, commercial competitions.
Back in 2016, Dijkema inherited a vexed issue that threatened to be profoundly significant not just to his own sport, but to all organised sports within Europe.
The European Commission was due to rule on an appeal made against the ISU by Dutch speed skaters Mark Tuitert, winner of the 1,500 metre at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, and Nels Kersholt.
Tuitert and Kersholt had challenged the ISU’s right to sanction competitors for taking part in unauthorised commercial events, a challenge that threatened the status quo within European sport similar to that which occurred with the 1995 ruling in favour of Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman which secured free movement of players within the European Union (EU).
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach commented: "We are deeply concerned about certain interpretations of the European treaty and EU competition law with regard to sports.
"If everything in Europe is looked at only from a business perspective, the social value of sport is lost - sport is about so much more than business."
Dijkema told insidethegames at that time: "Any allegation that the ISU’s rules are somehow anti-competitive appears to be based on a misplaced understanding of the governance structure of sport and the Olympic Movement.
"The European Union’s founding Treaty as well as the EU institutions have long recognised the autonomous governance structure of sport as being essential to the protection of the integrity, safety and health in sport.
"These rules benefit sports organisers, sportspersons and spectators. The ISU reiterates that independent organisers are able to organise international tournaments on the ISU international calendar.
"Indeed, the ISU recently authorised an event in the Netherlands to be co-organised by Icederby - the organisation which initiated the complaint through two Dutch Skaters.
"As such, there is no basis for the Commission’s claim that organisers are foreclosed from the market.
"It appears then that the European Commission has failed to take adequate account of the importance of the legitimate objectives pursued by the ISU’s eligibility rules.
"A neoliberal and deregulated approach to sport could destroy the Olympic values underpinning sport."
Brussel vandaag. Grote en belangrijke hoorzitting voor de EU commissie. 💪 pic.twitter.com/ncw5DT4lKt— Mark Tuitert (@marktuitert) February 1, 2017
Asked this week about this profound question - which has since been asked of numerous other International Federations, notably swimming and basketball - Dijkema pointed to the section of ISU rules, established in 2018 following the EU’s rulling of December 8 in 2017, that now deal with this issue.
"The ISU and the EU Commission, agreed through the so-called remedy discussions under which conditions third party (not ISU and ISU Members) international ice skating competitions can be organised," Dijkema told insidethegames.
"This is formalised in the 2018 ISU General Regulations Rule 102 and ISU Communication No 2171 and constitutes a transparent procedure for the organisation of third party/independent international ice skating competitions."
The ISU Communication to which Dijkema refers, signed by him and the ISU Director General Fredi Schmid on May 29 last year has at its heart a re-cast section of the rules relating to Open International Competitions.
"13. Open International Competitions
“a) An Open International Competition is a competition organised by a third party and/or coorganised by a third party and an ISU Member and/or a competition in which eligible and ineligible persons (as defined in Rule 102, paragraph 2) may compete together and/or a competition containing any novelty in format.
“b) The event must be sanctioned by the ISU, whereby the following provisions must be observed:
“i) the entry of eligible Skaters may be made only under the control of the respective ISU Member of the eligible participating Skater, or in a country, where there is no ISU Member or no ISU Member for the respective Branch, under the control of the ISU with any approval by the respective ISU Member or ISU not to be unreasonably withheld or denied.
“ii) the competition must be conducted in accordance to ISU Regulations subject to any novelty approved by the ISU Council thus exempting them from the otherwise applicable ISU rule."
Much of the document underlines the ISU’s insistence on issues relating to the health and welfare of athletes taking part in such competitions - exactly what might be expected of a responsible overseeing body.
With regard to possible clashes in the calendar, the tone is conciliatory:
"Applications by third parties or by ISU Members that are co-organising events with third parties… will be treated in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner as compared to applications submitted by ISU Members for any corresponding event on the ISU Calendar.
"In the event of two or more competitions being organised on conflicting dates on the same continent, the Director General shall immediately inform the ISU Members and/or third part organiers concerned to co-ordinate the dates between them."
Interestingly there is Declaration on Ethics attached to the document, and the ISU reserves the right to request information regarding those organising alternative competitions "in order to ensure that there is no conflict of interest or integrity risk (e.g. a person involved in the organisation of the event is flagged up by IOC Integrity Betting Intelligence System (IBIS) or the information is not in the public domain)."
Remember, in December 2017 Bach had warned: "If everything in Europe is looked at only from a business perspective, the social value of sport is lost - sport is about so much more than business."
How true did Dijkema think that was - or is?
In response, the Dutchman pointed to new section in the ISU Rules requiring new ventures to contribute to the grass-roots - or perhaps that should be base ice - of the sport.
"The indeed important and essential social value of sport is recognised by an EU Commission accepted provision as included in ISU Communication 2171" he said.
The section on Solidarity Contribution involves third parties paying "up to 10 per cent of its net profit of the approved Open International Competition to the ISU in favour of the development of the ISU Sports (which for the avoidance of doubt is used for solidarity and development purposes and not for any commercial activities of the ISU or its Members). The ISU has a right to request an audit of the books of the Organiser after the event."
It would appear that the ISU has been a test case in this respect, and the carefully modulated response to the emergence of new commercial challenges looks as if it might be useful to many other similar organisations.
On this same topic, a recently published report by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) concluded, among other things, that: "A protectionist approach is not going to cut it and IFs can ill-afford to rest on their laurels while claiming a historical right to govern a sport."
Was this report helpful or damaging to International Federations, did Dijkema think? And what pattern of competition did he foresee within ISU events, and other sports?
"As a sociologist, I am very much interested in developments in society and in sports," he responded.
"As ISU, we have not been able to analyse the entire report yet due to the busy winter season.
"Nevertheless, I support the finding that IFs will need to develop a more proactive, creative, marketing driven and collaborative mind set and to re-evaluate their role and strategies in order to capture current and new generations with sports.
"It is difficult to predict the future. Nevertheless, I also foresee a further professionalisation in the organisation of events with an increasing collaboration with specialised marketing and media companies in order to adapt to the rapidly changing world. It is a race without a finish."
As part of the ISU’s concern for athlete welfare - surely one of any International Federation’s most intrinsic responsibilities, especially given the volatility of new competition – it has put a new level of safeguarding in place.
"Recently there were reports of abuse and harassment on a Korean short track athlete" Dijkema said. "The ISU condemns any kind of abuse or harassment and we published a full statement on this matter in December.
"The ISU has recently created a new role of Ombudsperson in order to give Athletes, ISU Officials and Office Holders and the public the possibility to submit any complaints or concerns without having to go through the official process which usually consists of submitting a complaint to their federation or the ISU Disciplinary Commission."
In his 2016 election comments, Dijkema highlighted marketing, digitalisation and promotion, as well as allowing skaters to have more input in decision making.
What progress does he think has been made on these fronts?
"Regarding marketing, digitalisation and promotion, our ambition together with our Members and business partners is to further increase the ISU’s disciplines’ global fan base and its engagement.
"Skating has a global appeal and we want to provide and share exciting moments to new and existing fans.
"After the 2016 ISU Congress, we developed a new fan-centric digital strategy. One of the results is that we are creating and publishing more content for fans on digital platforms than ever before, which also allows us to better promote events and put skaters in the spotlight."
Dijkema added: "According to the annual RedTorch report 'Sport on Social', which analyses the presence and performance of 35 International Sports Federation on social media, the ISU is the second highest climber, taking seventh place in 2018.
"Recently, we also welcomed Infront as our new media partner. The agreement contributes to our strategy to have increased and relevant content across multiple distribution platforms.
"Together with our media partners in Canada, China, Japan, Korea and the United States, we ensure global exposure for more than 120 ISU events during the next four seasons, including through both traditional broadcast and digital channels.
"In my 2016 election commitments, I mentioned indeed the involvement of skaters in the policy and decision-making process.
"In the meantime, we established the ISU Athletes Commission which improves the way the interests and ideas of especially active athletes are included in the process. Moreover, many former skaters are part of the ISU internal bodies, such as the ISU Technical Committees."
The waves currently being made by the International Association of Athletics Federations’ announced changes to race walking and the IAAF Diamond League format will be familiar indeed to Dijkema.
Six-time Olympic medallist Rintje Rintsma has led Dutch opposition to the ISU plan agreed at the last Congress in Seville to hold a combined Speed Skating World Championships each year rather than separate sprint, all-around and single distance events.
One World Championships is due to take place each year from 2020-2021 onwards in what is hoped will make the event simpler and more understandable to fans and also boost commercial appeal.
As an interim arrangement, the all-around and sprint events have been combined for 2019-2020.
The Royal Dutch Skating Federation (KNSB) – the federation with which Dijkema developed a particular affinity with speed skating events - were among those to vote against the proposal, arguing that squeezing all global races into a one-week championship would reduce exposure for top athletes.
"This must have created a great deal in skating again," tweeted Rintsma sarcastically, adding: "Bunch of pancakes."
For Dijkema, no doubt, the prospect of watching one of the ISU’s flagship events in Japan - the World Championships at the Saitama Super Arena are due to take place from Wednesday (March 20) until next Sunday (March 24) - will represent a relative relief after the serious wrangling that has preceded it.
How much of a positive message does he think they can offer regarding the ongoing prospects of the ISU?
"Figure skating is very popular in Japan and, therefore, we can expect a very engaged and enthusiastic crowd," he said "The Japanese Skating Federation have informed us that the Championships are almost sold out, which will provide the participating skaters with a unique atmosphere.
"Usually during the post-Olympic season, the number of media in attendance decreases in comparison to the Olympic season. However we are pleased to report that a high number of press, photographers and TV Right Holders are expected to attend the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama which proves that figure skating attracts a lot of interest."
The 2016 ISU Congress at which Dijkema was voted into his current position also approved a landmark decision to waive judges’ anonymity following the latest in a line of judging scandals at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. So is the judging system now at its optimum?
"Figure skating has evolved over the years and it is important that the ISU Judging System also evolves with the sport," Dijkema responded. "Therefore, further changes can be expected in the future to be submitted to the ISU Congress for a vote with the next Congress scheduled to take place in 2020."
No details of what those changes might be are yet available.
After being elected in 2016, Dijkema commented: "You can't make many changes in two years, but you can make it possible for the long term if you work hard." So what is in prospect for the long term now he has a renewed mandate?
"The ISU’s purpose is to develop and promote its disciplines worldwide together with the members across all levels. In this regard, we continue to focus on three pillars besides running the ongoing operations in the period 2018-2022: development, marketing and promotion and good governance.
"In the field of development, we are launching new projects to increase the quantity and quality of skaters, coaches and officials worldwide and to increase the number of ISU members able to develop skaters who are competitive at ISU events and the Olympic Winter Games.
"Areas of focus are, for example, establishing an ISU online learning platform, Centers of Excellence and an international education program for skating coaches.
"The ISU is also focused on good governance and sustainability initiatives. According to the yearly independent governance assessment, the ISU has the second-best moderated score among International Winter Sports Federations, but we want to keep improving.
"Last but not least, I hope, and we are all committed, to making further progress on the marketing and promotion of the ISU disciplines and events.
"We want to work on the presentation of ISU Events both in venue and on screen, optimise current event formats and explore new types of events with the overall attraction for athletes, fans, media and business partners in mind, and new sponsorships with tailor-made propositions.
"As I said before, it is a race without a finish, and it requires hard working!"