UCI President Pat McQuaid
One of the side effects of spending part of the last year investigating snowboarding in the Olympics has been an unhealthy interest in how other sports have handled this most delicate of transitions.
So when I saw this article in Reuters earlier in the year, about how the ICU (International Cycling Union) and the IOC had met to discuss whether the cycling body should ‘take charge’ of skateboarding’s progress in a future Olympic Games, I was naturally intrigued.
The reason I was interested has a lot to do with a question that has come up frequently while I’ve been writing these Olympic pieces for Transworld: ‘Why should I care?’ True, a lot of people have been supportive of the articles and the idea that snowboarders should stand up for themselves in the face of yet another silent takeover from FIS.
But equally, the entire issue seems to just piss a lot of snowboarders off. The gist of the argument is basically ‘Who cares? Snowboarding is about riding powder/hitting rails/wearing denim jackets and listening to heavy metal* with your mates, not any of this Olympic rubbish’. (*delete as applicable)
Probably true. But, um, why can’t you think snowboarding is the best laugh ever AND have an informed opinion on the Olympic stuff? I’ve quoted this a lot, but Ed Leigh put it well: “Feel free to take a head in the sand approach. But if you do, you forgo the right to complain or ever become cynical about how the sport you love has been poisoned and how great it used to be in the good old days. Because essentially, by taking that stance, you are complicit in its demise”.
For me, this is the main reason we should care. At the moments, the FIS tanks are on the snowboarding lawn – so what, we should just slip out the back, leave the door on the latch and invite them in to steal everything that isn’t nailed down while we all go off and slap each other on the backs about how core, legit and snowboardy we’re all being? Yep, way to take the long view everyone.
Say what you like about biathlon as a sport (although to be fair they do race around with guns), but when FIS came sniffing around those guys back in the 80s, they told them where they could stick their attempt to run their Olympic qualification. The result? Today they have some self respect as a community, they get to run it on their own terms, keep all the money for themselves and are the only ski discipline FIS aren’t in charge of. So FIS don’t run biathlon – who are skiers. But they do run snowboarding – who aren’t skiers. Can anyone tell me what’s fundamentally wrong with this picture?
There’s a wider issue at play too. If we don’t try and safeguard ‘our’ sports from the rapacious outside interests of corporations and sporting organisations that couldn’t give a flying one about anything other than money, who will? Make no mistake, outside eyes are watching the way that the snowboarding debacle unfolds, and that includes the IOC, who see in action sports a way of invigorating their events for the twenty first century. How we react now will set the tone for the way it goes in all our sports – skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, BMX - in the future and on the biggest platform of all.
All of which brings me back to the Reuters article I mentioned at the start of this blog. If you took that article at face value, here was yet another potential stitch up. Some of the quotes from Pat McQuaid, head of the UCI, didn’t sound too promising either, with him apparently saying ‘the UCI was willing to take the whole of skateboarding under their umbrella’. Could it really be happening in skateboarding as it had in snowboarding?
To find out more, I contacted the the formidable McQuaid himself to see if they knew about the whole mess that had been made of snowboarding’s Olympic transition, and whether lessons were being learned in the case of skateboarding.
So according to the Reuters article, the UCI and the IOC have had a meeting about the UCI running skateboarding at a future Olympic. Is that true?
No. No we haven’t had a conversation about that with the IOC. It’s been something that’s been discussed a little. You know we have BMX in the Olympics, since Beijing? it’s been a a big success. It’s been a big success with the UCI. The President of the French Federation says they have 20,000 license holders as a result. So a natural extension of that would be BMX freestyle. And a natural extension of BMX freestyle would be skateboarding. Both of them are interested in coming into the Olympic programme, and we’ve had discussions with representatives from both sports about that possibility. But that’s as far as it’s gone.
So who was it you spoke to in skateboarding?
Gary Ream from the International Skateboarding Federation. How far have the conversations gone? Well the conversations went fairly well. Skateboarding is further down the road, although BMX freestyle would obviously be more natural for the UCI because of BMX already being in there. Albeit that the two BMX disciplines are different communities. Nevertheless we could cope with that as we have different disciplines within the UCI – such as indoor and outdoor cycling. And if that happened and we were to be successful then possibly skateboarding could be considered. I mean, this has a lot to do with the IOC and the image of the Olympic Games. You’d need to ask the IOC, but my understanding is that they’re looking at what they need to do to update and bring about a more youthful image for the Olympic Games.
That would make sense – in the winter arena they’re going heavy on snowboarding and freestyle skiing right now.
Yes, and that’s been a success for them, for the disciplines as well. Albeit that the disciplines were reluctant to come in under the ski federation, but overall the IOC would see that as being successful, so you can see that they might be looking at how they could repeat the success of that in the summer programme as well. This would be one way of doing it. Bear in mind also that the IOC does have restriction under the Olympic Charter under the number of disciplines and athletes. So that does put a restraint on it, it means they can’t just bring in new sports willy-nilly. It’d be a decision of the Executive Board but they’d have restraints as well. It’d be a long term project, there’s no doubt about that.
So if the UCI got involved with skateboarding, would you look to work with existing grassroots skateboarding events or set up a new UCI run contest series ?
To be honest, we haven’t even got the far. In both discussions we’ve had with the BMX freestyle people and the skateboarding people, we do appreciate that there are big community and cultural differences between these sports and cycling. They’re different sports than ours. Most of ours are ‘first across the line’ things, while skateboarding and BMX freestyle would obviously be judged. So what they are scared of is that by coming into the UCI they would become very regulated and lose their creativity and what makes them unique as sports. We’ve discussed that with them and we think that’s something that could be sorted out. But we haven’t really spoken about structure or how it would be sorted out. At the moment, as I say, this is just a dialogue between all parties.
Are you aware of what is happening in snowboarding right now with the ski federation FIS being awarded control of the qualification process? A lot of snowboarders feel that those things you mention – creativity and culture – are in danger of being lost thanks to the way the whole thing is being handled by FIS right now.
Yes, we’re aware of it. When it comes to skateboarding – I mean, I’m a long way from being in their community myself. But we do understand their fears, and it’s something we would consciously try and make sure doesn’t happen in this case. We’d work and create a situation where they do have a lot more control over their own destiny and events in the Olympics and in the build up.
That’s good to hear
It always has to be. But make no mistake about it. The only way you’re going to get to the Olympic Games is by being part of an international federation or if your national Olympic Committee selects you. That’s enshrined in the Olympic charter and you’re not going to change that. The question for us would be – how best to do it so that it’s in everybody’s best interests. We wouldn’t want to interfere with the disciplines, how it evolves, the judging, and how they run the disciplines. It’s important they retain that freedom of expression. but if it’s well enough thought out, and well enough discussed in advance, then the UCI would be certainly interested in following this up.