Skateboarders! You Have My Olympic Condolences!

Finally, it’s a fact! We’ll see skateboarding in the Olympic Summer Games! This week, the IOC announced that five new sports will be a part of the program in Tokyo 2020. Strong voices, like legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk, have pushed for it. Others have worked fiercely against it!

History Repeating!

Once again, long-term trusted relations are the most important to gain political power. Once again, independent sports have been forced into traditional organizational structures. Once again, I claim, that agreements have made behind closed doors.

I smell trouble! Congratulations to the IOC! Skateboarders, you have my condolences!

I have followed this process for years. My interest and insight into international action sports politics come from more than a decade of political work within snowboarding, both on a national and international level.

Together with many other snowboarders, I have invested many hours to ensure international independence for snowboarding. A practically hopeless fight against two strong and related organizations, the IOC and the International Ski Federation (FIS).

The IOC – On A Mission To Connect With The Urban Youth

It has long been clear that the IOC must make the Olympic Games more attractive to the younger audience. A Bloomberg view article reported that London 2012 had a prime-time median age in the 50s. This must change, if not the interest and market value of the Olympic Games will decrease.

Urban sports, with a more youthful spirit, to attract younger audiences have been needed. In Beijing 2008 and London 2012, BMX was on the summer program. At the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi 2014, freeski (several diciplines) and slopestyle for snowboard was on the program. Big air is on its way to Pyeongchang 2018.

In the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in China, skateboard was presented as a showcased sport, paving the way for Tokyo 2020.

Now we know, in four years, we’ll see both skateboard, surfing, sports climbing, baseball/softball, karate and surfing. Well done, IOC!

skateboarding on sunrise city

A 92 Year Old Governs And Owns Skateboarding!

Before London 2012, IOC looked into how skateboarding could be introduced. The answer was that the International Cycling Union should govern skateboarding. A skateboard goes on wheels.. Right? Do you follow? Me, neither..

Three international federations have been fighting to become the governing body for skateboarding. The International Skateboard Federation, the World Skateboard Federation and the International Roller Sports Federation (FIRS). After a fierce a battle, the IOC found a more acceptable way.

FIRS, a federation with all the criteria and relations in place, won the battle. An easy and safe option for the IOC.

In the world of sports, old structures are paving the way. New progressive sports, longing the Olympic gold, are forced into ancient structures.

201608_FIRS
FIRS announces on its website – We made it! Image credit: FIRS, www.rollersports.org

Civil War I – The International One!

Instead of uniting all international skateboard federations (I have counted six) under one umbrella, trying to become the new recognized international federation, they started fighting each other. And it’s still going on. Two days ago, it was known that one skateboard association is actually suing its skateboard “rival”.

The winner of the Olympic battle was announced earlier this year. FIRS was the winner. It started to boil under the skateboard. Then a smart move was made to silence the revolt.

A FIRS commission was proposed to oversee the skateboarding competition at 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. It’s headed by Gary Ream, the CEO of the International Skateboard Federation. In addition, FIRS, World Skateboard Federation and an athlete representative are represented in the commission.

This might feel great! But really, what power does this commission really have? A comparison to snowboard would that, World Snowboard Tour president Reto Lamm should be heading the FIS snowboard committee.

Skateboarding is, for now, leading a commission on the operational floor. But we all know that the real power is on the political level.

If skateboarders really want to regain the control our their sport, they must get skateboarders into the FIRS executive board and FIRS congress. 

Civil War II – The National One!

The international cards have been dealt. FIRS is in charge. The next battle will be on the national level. All nations have a different organizational structure for sports and different levels of democracy.

What happens on the national level is just as important for a sport. I will explain this, by using an example from snowboarding.

In Norway, snowboarding is organized with its own federation with its own board with a direct line to the national sports federation. Lucky us! We are sidelined with the ski federation and get the financial support directly, both to national teams, national cup and grass root activities.

When the IOC gave the rights to snowboarding to the FIS in the late 90s, the national ski federations established their own snowboard organizations. Snowboard committees within the ski federations emerged. Many, who are still primarily focusing on the national teams and the Olympics. And they get all the governmental fundings.

The existing independent snowboard associations were pushed out into the cold. These snowboard associations often take care of the grass root, groom and rookie level. This is great! There is only a huge problem. They rarely get any governmental funding.

Some countries have only one snowboarding body within a ski federation, who deals with all levels of the sport. One good example is Switzerland, where it’s working fine.

In order to participate in the Olympic Summer Games, every nations must get their act together and include skateboard into the organized sport.

And again, every nation is different. In Norway, the National Organization for Skateboarding has been around for almost 40 years. They are independent and not, today, a member of the Norwegian Sports Federation. In order to be a part of Tokyo 2020, they must somehow become a member.

This week, the Norwegian national snowboard president stretched out a hand to the skateboarders, suggesting to establish a national board sports association. The idea is to create a new platform against the more traditional sports. One model of many.

Now, it really starts getting complicated. FIRS, the international governing body for skateboarding, already have a member federation in most countries. In Norway, it’s the Norwegian Skating Association. I don’t believe that the skateboarders want to be organized with speed skating, figure skating and roller skating. Or will FIRS allow membership from two national federations? If so, it would be a first timer.

I know, this is complicated! And this has been the reality for snowboarding since the 90s.

I really hope the national sports federations and national olympic committees work for one national skateboard association! Respect the existing skateboard association, before the existing national member of FIRS starts establishing a new one!

The Olympics Will Change Skateboard Forever!

Until now, commercial events like the X Games and the Street League Skateboarding have been the most important and pinnacle events. A mecca for skateboarders, sponsors and the TV producers. But I guess, that the nations with national teams have not been present. 😉

This will change. To be an olympian is a childhood dream for so many. Over the next four, eight, twelve years, I believe that young skateboarders (and at least their parents, their sponsors, national olympic committees and national coaches (yes, it will become more structured)) will dream about and chase the Olympic skateboarding podium.

Teenager hat seinen Kopf auf sein Skateboard gelegt

National teams, development plans, drug testing and daily work-outs at national olympic training facilities will be a fact for professional skateboarders. Just like it has become a daily life for professional snowboarders.

I guess that, this is painful to read, for a true skateboarding heart!

Will Tokyo 2020 Be A Success?

This depends on who you ask. The most important is that most of the best skateboarders participate, that the venue is good and that the judging is fair.

After  Sochi 2014, many snowboarders were shaking their heads because of the slopestyle judging, the halfpipe conditions and the fact that snowboard still governed by the FIS. But if I asked any IOC member, they were super proud about the success they had achieved together with the organizers in Sochi and the FIS.

The Olympics is about sports, but it a lot about money. A lot of money. The IOC channels a substantial part back to the nations and the sports. The nations get their share via the national olympic committee. The sports get a share via their international sports federations.

This is why the political power in the international federation is so important.

So, yes I believe skateboarding in Tokyo 2020 will be a success. We’ll see most of the best skateboarders there. Some might boycott. Others might not be able to participate because of the national quotas.

As long as Tokyo 2020 hires the best venue builders and experienced judgers they will be fine.

The skateboarders who enters the podium will be superheroes!

The recruitment to skateboarding will thrive. The same will the skateboarding industry. But you must be in the political driving seat of your sport to get the long term benefits of the Olympic Games! 

My Best Advice To The Skateboarding Community!

Okay, FIRS has it. Not much to do about it.

My biggest fear is that skateboarding will end up in a mess of conflicts like snowboarding. Several ongoing world tours and world championships, different judging systems, national independent federations without governmental support, events that cannot survive the four year olympic cycle, a confused audience and loss of sponsors. A terrible reality for the snowboarders today!

I don’t believe the Olympics will contribute to the creative development of skateboarding. It will make a hardcore sport. An acrobatic and structured sport! Look how halfpipe has changed on the last decade.

To the skateboarders! Don’t lose your creativity nor your values. True skateboarding will continue to develop, every day in the streets. Keep on skateboarding! Be creative! Stick to your values!

But you will need a professional political structure, in order not to get robbed, like snowboarding has been.

To you guys at the tops! Lean in and learn the game of sports politics, stick together and claim your political rights, on the international and national level! Skateboarders, the industry and nations must stand together!

International sports is all about money and power.

Money and power, that should be channeled back to the true grassroot of skateboarding!

The future is uncertain! But your choices and commitment of today define the future!

skateboard at sunset

Good luck,

Cecilia – going sideways, always! 


Cecilia Flatum was the president of the Norwegian Snowboard Association 2009-2015 (a board member/ vice chairman 2003-2007), and the Vice president of World Snowboard Federation (2012-2016)

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(Photos in this post in bought from Fotolia)

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