Shaking Hands With The Devil – Open Letter From Henning Andersen


The news that slopestyle will definitely be part of the 2014 Games in Sochi is the biggest news to hit competitive snowboarding in a decade. Our last post on the subject tried to peek behind the various press releases that had so far set the tone of the debate, and get to the bottom of the real issues by interviewing some key players. Specifically, we wanted to see what power the joint TTR/FIS Task Force, the body that will advise FIS on the best system of qualification, will actually have.

Now, in a further development, Henning Andersen, initiator of the Olympic 180 Charter and CEO of the World Snowboarding Championships, has called out all the involved parties in an open letter sent to us here at Transworld. In it, Andersen outlines what he sees as the real issues the Task Force must deal with if the mess that is competitive snowboarding is to be sorted out in time for 2014, and challenges everyone involved – TTR, FIS, IOC and more – to come up with a solution for the good of snowboarding.

Check the text of the open letter below:

Freestyle Snowboarding Task Force - opportunities and pitfalls

In the aftermath of the expected IOC decision on including slopestyle in the Olympics, it's time to wake up from the euphoria and start focusing on solutions again. The recent and perfectly timed Transworld interview with FIS boss Sarah Lewis underlines the need for urgent talks. Unfortunately, she blocks all possible solutions in her comments, but let's hope it was an accidental slip of the tongue.

As rider frustration grows stronger, TTR and FIS have created the Freestyle Snowboarding Task Force and are working together to improve the dire situation that currently exists in competitive snowboarding. It's obviously not only the riders that are frustrated, but event organizers, team managers, national federations and, perhaps, also the big cats at FIS. After all, when you work hard for a year organizing an event, and no big names show up, you can certainly see something's terribly wrong.

The Olympic 180 Charter, signed by all the best snowboarders in the world, clearly calls for a joint solution for the better good of our sport: an Olympic ranking including all the major events in the world. We have seen the TTR demo version of such a ranking, and it is truly beautiful. Like in tennis and golf, it is a list representing a credible sequence of snowboarders much better than any other snowboard ranking currently out there. A world-class rider like Tyler Flanagan all of a sudden jumps into top 5 of the slopestyle ranking - where he certainly belongs. If a rider or event organizer get the question – do you want to be part of ranking with all the big names, or a ranking with no names? – it's pretty obvious what he's going to choose. This is the path to develop snowboarding into a global supersport. In fact, there is no other way. The FIS monopoly on the Olympics must be replaced.

So, the opportunity for Jeremy Forster and his Task Force is crystal clear: you have a brilliant opportunity to create the foundation for a great snowboarding future. The pitfalls are, unfortunately, many. The success or failure of the Task Force is dependent upon diplomatic maneuvering around these hostile waters. The main pitfalls are:

*Unbalanced conditions. If one party defines the main rules, the Task Force will fail. For instance, if FIS demands that all events must be sanctioned by national FIS organizations. The TTR is an organization of independent events, and this requirement will destroy the most important asset of the 200 events that are TTR members. FIS must respect this basic value in the negotiations. If the end play is FIS sanctioning, it will not work. The other way around: TTR must respect the nation factor of FIS. If the needs of the nations are not satisfied, there is no way an Olympic ranking will work.

*Limitation of organization. Both parties must realize and respect freedom of organization, meaning there is no preferred organization principle. The key factor must be quality of events, not who owns or organizes them. Even FIS use private organizers to make their best events, like the World Cup in Canada. In other successful sports, such  as tennis, golf and beach volleyball, private initiative and risk is the driving force of progression. Snowboarding needs to learn and adopt to these sports, not get stuck in traditional organization.

*Limitation of progression. Snowboarding is perhaps the most progressive sport in the world today. To use this momentum to create the global supersport we want, there is no room for rigid rules restricting progression. Launching new judging systems or creative formats cannot take years. This dynamic element of progression is the backdrop of the success of the TTR. This is why the riders appreciate TTR. Take away this element, and respect is gone overnight. Following the FIS governance principle, where all major decisions have to go all the way up to the FIS council, should not apply to snowboarding.

*Lack of respect. There are huge differences between the organizations, but also between nations and continents. The Americans, for instance, have created a much more healthy solution for the riders than the Europeans and Asians. The Grand Prix solution stateside makes it hard for the Americans to understand the troubles in the old world where the alliance of national ski federation and Olympic organization forces riders into the full World Cup to qualify. As the US is the strongest Olympic nation, they should be the driving force in making an inclusive qualification system - for the better good of the sport and the riders. The task is set: make a system that is equal to all, and the system will get respect from all.

*Wildcards and seeding. This is a challenge mostly for TTR. All events on the Olympic ranking must have a open and fair entry system. The traditional industry spots and wild cards must be reduced to a minimum. If you're good enough, you're good enough. There cannot be any commercial bias in entry protocols or seeding of riders. Judges can no longer be booked by the event organizer, but should be pooled through a joint effort of TTR and FIS. The judging system must also be open and fair, with a feedback loop to riders and team.

If the Task Force can make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and find a way around the many potential pitfalls, they will get the backing of the global snowboard community. Failing to make the most of this opportunity will put everything back to square one.

Henning Andersen