Why the IOC can no longer ignore the World Snowboard Tour

Can the TTR only represent freestyle snowboarding at the Olympics. And will big air be the next Olympic snowboard event? Ulrik Badertscher, Winter X Games 2013 big air. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

Shaking Hands With The Devil: Why the IOC can no longer ignore the World Snowboard Tour part 2

By Matt Barr

So is the TTR plan from here still to ultimately try and take control of snowboarding in a future Olympic Games? If it is, there is one glaring question that doesn't seem to be part of the TTR/WSF plans: alpine snowboarding and boardercross. After all, in their Olympic Charter, the IOC makes it pretty clear that they will only deal with International Federations "responsible for the technical control and direction of its sport at the Olympic Games; all elements of the competitions, including the schedule, field of play, training sites and all equipment."

Currently, any International Federation hoping to control snowboarding at the Games, no matter how progressive it's freestyle program, must also be in a position to run alpine and boardercross — something the TTR/WSF is in no position to do and indeed, has no desire to do. So how do they plan to get around this problem? For Reto Lamm, the alpine problem will soon solve itself.

"We do not consider parallel slalom and other disciplines to be freestyle snowboarding, and thus do not have any intention to represent them. There are various examples, where "related" disciplines are represented by different international sports associations — such as biathlon. And with freestyle snowboarding becoming more and more dominant, we expect parallel slalom to be a discipline that will sooner or later vanish from the Olympic agenda, as it is a sport that has no following among the youth, no amateur basis and no visual attractiveness — all of which IOC´s goals when it comes to add new sports. The latest initiative by IOC member Gerhard Heiberg from Norway, to make Snowboard Big Air an Olympic discipline might as well mark the beginning of the end for alpine snowboarding's Olympic presence."

Big Air to make an appearance at the 2018 Olympics at the expense of PGS? It would certainly help to explain the newly confident mood at the top of snowboarding, and a few of the rumours that were doing the rounds at the Air and Style in Innsbruck. Foremost of these involved the Air and Style itself, which is set to announce new events in Brazil and Mexico, to complement the existing Innsbruck and Beijing legs. Then there is the expansion of the X Games, which is also hosting new events in Munich and Brazil (check).

Will big air be the next Olympic snowboard event? Here’s the FIS version from Stoneham, Quebec.

Such developments beg the tantalizing question — is this the TTR moving quickly to make sure there is an established world big air tour in place ahead of an announcement from the IOC that big air will be at the 2018 Games. And has this indication come from the IOC itself, with whom the TTR seems to have been in discreet contact? After all, Gerhard Heiberg, in part responsible for the proposed 2018 Big Air initiative, is rumored to be sympathetic to the justice of the snowboarding cause.

Of course, there remains an elephant in the room — boardercross, always one of the most popular events at Winter Olympic Games. Yet, as Reto Lamm points out, there is a precedent here in the case of biathlon, who broke away from FIS in the mid-80s to run their Olympic qualification under the auspices of their own International Biathlon Federation. As Peer Gynt of the International Biathlon Federation explained when I interviewed him back in July 2012, yes the biathletes had managed it — but only after completely revamping the organization of their sport to ensure they had the biggest non-Olympic TV-ratings of any winter sport in Europe, making sure they had huge amounts of bargaining power with FIS and the IOC when the time came.

It's a similar strategy being followed by the snowboarding camp now. But where snowboarding diverges from something like biathlon is in what every snowboarder instinctively recognizes and what is simply discarded when a body like FIS is put in charge: what Reto calls "the cultural aspect."

In this way, snowboarding is basically a new test case for the way in which the IOC will have to learn to deal with the new generation of sports that don't conform to their existing model. For snowboarders, it's simple really. Our sports are different, and the IOC needs to recognize this. After all, it might help them rejuvenate their own offering in the process.

"Sports are divided in cultural aspects," Reto Lamm says. "Freestyle snowboarding has a leading role in action sports. The motivation for an action sport lays in creativity, progression, friendship, and expression. It needs a different treatment by global sports bodies. Modern sports need to be organized in ways which engage these assets and IOC needs to learn how to implement these newly developed organizational structures into their portfolio. The World Snowboard Tour is a very modern structure which has evolved and grown within this idea and should be embraced by IOC. Many other new sports will have the same or similar structures in the future. So we're a good way towards convincing the world of sports politics that TTR and WSF would be good partners for further expanding the global fascination of Olympic freestyle snowboarding and to make Olympic games more attractive for young people."

In other words, those undeniable realities are getting ever more difficult to ignore. However it plays out, interesting times lie ahead.

Read part 1 here: http://bit.ly/fisvsttr