The best snowboarder in the world, Norway’s Terje Haakonsen, willboycott the 1998 Winter Olympic Games this February in Nagano, Japan. The two-time world champion cites corruption in the InternationalOlympic Committee (I.O.C.).
Burton Snowboards, Haakonsen’s snowboarding equipment sponsor, issupporting his decision. According to David Schriber, Director ofMarketing at Burton, “We’ve said from the beginning that we wouldsupport every rider’s personal decision. No rider I’ve spoken to in thepast few weeks is 100% comfortable with the Olympic situation. But inthe next few weeks, every eligible rider will have to make a difficultdecision.”
Haakonsen notified the Norway Olympic team coach on Tuesday that he isdeclining his slot on the Norway team. Terje has recently defeatedpractically every potential Olympic competitor in non-Olympic-relatedevents, and is undefeated in the halfpipe for the season. Most notably,Terje defeated top U.S. riders Todd Richards and Ross Powers, as well asNorway’s Daniel Franck. Both Richards and Franck have noted in recentinterviews that a win in Nagano without Terje present would be a hollowvictory.
The I.O.C. has been embroiled in controversy since it chosesnowboarding to be a part of the 1998 Olympic Games. Many in the sportdid not seek inclusion in the Olympics; in many riders’ opinions, theOlympics sought them as a potential revenue-builder for the decliningWinter Games.
The I.O.C.’s governing body for snowboarding competition is theFederation Internationale du Ski (F.I.S.), skiing’s governing body. TheF.I.S. is generally regarded in the sport of snowboarding asnon-representative of the sport. Snowboarding’s own sanctioning body,the International Federation of Snowboarders (I.S.F.), had beenlong-established and respected, yet it was ignored by the I.O.C. when itappointed the F.I.S.
Most countries which will be sending a snowboarding team to Naganohave a national governing body which is a national affiliation of theF.I.S. Rules vary by country, but in most countries, there are nationalteams of snowboarders who train and travel together. As snowboardingis not a team sport, this clashes with the freedom ofself-determination of most riders.
F.I.S. rules have forced riders to compete outside of their homecountries, often for extended periods and at a great personal expense tothe riders. This also defeats the career goals of those professionalriders who seek to establish their name in their home nations; it isdifficult for unknown riders to seek corporate sponsorships.
And every F.I.S. affiliate has sold the clothing sponsorships forsnowboarding, thus forcing riders to wear a “uniform” once they makethe team. Not only do the uniforms negate the individuality of theriders, but they are also in many cases not functional, for they aremanufactured by companies which do not understand the technical clothingneeds of a professional rider.
The Olympic Games, thus, will be a battle for second place in the eyesof the snowboarding world. That is, if more riders do not followHaakonsen’s example. As for Terje, “He’s managed his career very wellso far,” says Burton founder and snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton, “Wehave to believe Terje is doing the right thing.”