The Arctic Challenge Owners And Organisers Confront Olympic Problems

Terje Haakonsen and Henning Andersen write a public letter offering an alternative to the current conflicts surrounding potential Olympic snowboarding events

” As the Olympic slopestyle/snowboarding discussion is peaking, it is time to cast some light on this future defining topic for competitive snowboarding. This upcoming weekend the ski federation FIS introduces slopestyle on the program, at the same time as the best slopestyle riders are competing in Dew Tour. And the IOC is about to decide on whether they will include slopestyle in the Olympic program or not. Some remarkable events have taken place in the last year. Let us recap:

After the extraordinary tv rating success from the halfpipe contest in Vancouver, top cats from IOC and NBC saw the potential in expanding the snowboard program at the Olympics. Seeing the golden boy Shaun White go double at the next winter Olympics (Sotchi 2014) would be a rating wet dream. In the fall of 2009, USA, Canada and New Zealand had prepared a proposition for the ski federation FIS’ annual congress in Turkey, June 2010. The idea was to prepare slopestyle for the 2018 Olympics by introducing it at the FIS Snowboarding World Championships. As IOC requires two successful World Championships before considering new sports for future games.

By then, the FIS delegates were euforic by the snowboard hysteria after Vancouver. They jumped the conclusions and bypassed the requirements, and decided to speed up the process by submitting an application to the IOC immediately – before having tried it out in a single world championships. It is reasonable to imagine they felt confident that IOC would be positive to an application.

The only problem was that IOC had lots on their plates in their next meeting, in Acapulco in October. The most disturbing topic was women ski jumping; a nightmare for the Olympic movement. Women ski jumpers have been fighting for years to enter the Olympics, but hasfaced serious opposition both within FIS and IOC. Many believe women ski jumping (alsoin the sports media) has not enough participants, it is low on quality and the internationalreach of the sport is not good enough. Women ski jumpers has also sued the IOC before the Vancouver Olympics for discrimination, but they lost in Canadian legal system.

Allowing snowboard slopestyle, as well as twintip ski halfpipe and slopestyle, before solving the women ski jumping issue probably made the choice impossible for IOC. Rather thansubmitting some sports and denying others, they made one statement for all: We will await and see the quality of the sports at the upcoming world championships. FIS has several worldchampionships coming up this season; among them the Nordic Ski World Championshipsin Oslo, the Snowboard World Championships in Molina, Spain and the Freestyle World Championships in Deer Valley and Park City.

Only problem was that neither Molina nor Deer Valley/Park City had planned for a slopestyle! Even worse: Deer Valley bans snowboarding on a general basis and they do nothave a terrain park. In Norway, where the snowboard federation is independent of FIS, and are part owners of the TTR/WSF World Snowboarding Championships in 2012, this whole situation culiminated in a public debate. IOC executive board member Gerhard Heibergadmitted that IOC wanted to check out more than just FIS events when deciding upon the quality of slopestyle. As FIS did not have slopestyle on their Olympic program, this opened up for a new scenario in the debate; if the IOC could look at non-FIS events, could they also approve these events as qualifiers for the Olympics?

Everyone working in top level snowboarding contests knows how much the date conflicts in Olympic qualifying years is hurting the sport. This has been bad before, but in 2013, when riders are qualifying for both halfpipe and slopestyle, will be a nightmare. And this is the fundamental problem of competitive snowboarding: It will never reap its full potential before the Olympic issue is solved. Snowboarding is not a 4 year cycle event. It is a daily operation where progress is happening in all corners of the world – summer, winter, spring and fall. At the moment the Olympic halfpipe finals is only good for the podium winners, IOC and the broadcasters. It does not help the sport as a whole.

The date conflicts is the most apparent problem. This was cruely exposed when FIS all of a sudden decided to include slopestyle in Molina – two months before the event! This was obviously a move to impress the IOC before the slopestyle decision, but it was not a good move for the sport: the slopestyle contest in Molina happens on excact the same dates as the Dew Tour stop in Killington. All Dew Tour riders, being the best slopestyle riders in the world, are long time signed for these events. Meaning the FIS World Champion in slopestyle (and in halfpipe for that matter) will be crowned without the best riders attending.

Competitive snowboarding has a fantastic potential. Right now judging formats, slope design, prize money, tv production/distribution and rider services is progressing fast in TTR events, X Games and Dew Tour. These are the best events in the world. But they are outside the Olympic family. As the biggest winter sports event in the world, we believe IOC holds a corporate responsibility for directing the solution. This will not only release the potential of the sport, but also improve the quality of snowboarding contests at the Olympics. All of us, including event organisers, FIS, IOC and federations, should find a solution for the good of the sport. Otherwise the losing party will be the riders; they will be forced into making impossible choices between conflicting events in 2013 – on any given weekend throughout the season.

We believe such a solution could be a common Olympic ranking, not sanctioned by FIS or TTR, but a joint ranking list based on results from the best events in the world. By embracing this, the IOC would take a credible position for the youth of the world and take charge in the ongoing action sports revolution. We are willing to talk to find a good solution for the sport. But we are also willing to keep fighting for snowboarding like we have done for over a decade. The Olympic system for snowboarding is wrong; preserving the status quo is not an option.

Terje Haakonsen
Henning Andersen
Owner and organiser of The Arctic Challenge

Author: silvia