Olympic snowboarding issues still to be addressed 

Trevor Andrew in Whistler
  • Trevor Andrew in Whistler

FIS still has a few bugs to work out

When snowboarding debuted at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, one of best halfpipe riders in the world opted not to go. Norway’s Terje Haakonsen, then 23, complained that the International Olympic Committee did not understand the sport or its athletes.

"The big wigs ride in limousines and stay in fancy hotels while the athletes live in barracks in the woods," Haakonsen said.

Burton Snowboards, Haakonsen’s sponsor, supported his decision. A marketing director for the company said, "No rider I’ve talked to is 100 per cent comfortable with the Olympic Association."

At the time most of the athletes felt that the right to organize the snowboard events should have been given to the International Snowboard Federation, which has supported the development of the sport from the beginning.

Instead, the honour was given to the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS), which was hosting a snowboard World Cup circuit that few of the athletes were competing on. They felt the prize money was inadequate, the events were too far flung, and competing at the FIS level was not good for their sponsors or their sport. Besides, they knew the people at the ISF and were just more comfortable working with that organization.

The FIS also has a lot more rules, which were based on the rigid guidelines that alpine, freestyle, and a host of other skiing disciplines have had to follow. One example is that athletes have to wear team uniforms which were reflective of the riders’ own personal sponsors.

Another example is the FIS judging format that dictated two runs in the finals, both of which would count.

All riders fall on occasion, and the snowboarders who go the biggest and try the most difficult trips fall slightly more often than the others. These are the most respected riders in the sport, yet few of them would be able to compete at the highest level in the FIS without toning down their performances to a safe level. It didn’t seem right.

The FIS is also a lot more Euro-centric than the ISF, which is something that still needs improvement. On the 2001-2002 season calendar, only four of 17 events take place outside of Europe. That’s not convenient, or even affordable, for many North American riders or their sponsors, and even the top riders feel that an extended trip to Europe to compete in World Cup’s would do more harm than good, keeping them and their sponsors out of the limelight that matters to them.

It’s also been pointed out by more than one snowboarding magazine that FIS drug testing – especially marijuana – automatically disqualifies a number of the top riders in the world from even considering taking part.


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