Maybe the crowd was not as big as it could have been but the first of two British Ski and Snowboard Open Meetings to explain a few things about the state of British Skiing, passed off in Meribel with a few raised eyebrows and some disbelief. Much has been written about various aspects of the state of the Governing body for Skiing and Snowboarding and the meeting was hosted by CEO of the BSS, Dave Edwards, and the Performance Director Paddy Mortimer. As with any organisation when little information comes out from the powers that be, misinformation causes more problems. This was an opportunity for Edwards and Mortimer with Konrad Bartelski, Adrian Pery and Sean Langmuir also in attendance to help rectify some of the damage that has been caused by the lack of information that has come out of the offices of the BSS in the last year or so.
Edwards presented a simple presentation explaining where they are and where they are going in terms of financial support and expenditure. With maybe a little too much emphasis on why they are where they are, Edwards was at pains to point out that with Snowsport GB having gone bust in 2010, the lack of trust that bodies like the British Olympic Association and UK Sport hold British Ski and Snowboard in at the moment, was a basis for part of the current lack of funding for the programmes being put in place. Mortimer meanwhile explained the need for performance ideals that are trying to be put in place to secure funding from UK Sport.
The feeling after the meeting was that maybe this is where the BSS are going wrong. With the BOA placing high qualifying criteria for the Olympics and the four year cycle that lead up to them, a number of points came to light that showed the difference in what FIS (skiing’s governing body) and the BOA see as necessary criteria, the Nor Am circuit being seen as at a similar level to the Europa Cup by FIS but the BOA placing it at an inferior level being the main one. Despite the emphasis being placed by Mortimer on the need to play the game set out by UK Sport, maybe now is the time for the BSS to take the necessary move and place more emphasis on securing support and financial sponsorship from the commercial world. It was obvious to many of those attending the meeting in Meribel that going down the UK Sport route will not secure funding in the short term due to the lack of trust in the fledgling organisation.
After the collapse of the SSGB, the need to set the new organisation up on stone rather than sand was easy to see. However one of the areas that many felt was being totally missed out was the promotion of its athletes, its strongest commodity. The dire promotion of David Ryding in winning the Europa Cup series was highlighted (Racer Ready was the only UK media outlet to cover the story on the day.) and the poor promotion of its athletes seemed to have by-passed many of the board. In the subsequent hours after the meeting finished many felt that the performance of one member of the board in particular had left a lot to be desired.
British Alpine skiing is in a poor state of affaires but many felt that it is being sold short. With relatively week criteria being put in place for qualification by other disciplines for their World Championships this season, when compared to the standards required by the Alpine athletes, the Alpine racers are being given higher and higher hoops to jump through. In response to the question of why only two British athletes were selected to go to the World Championships, the responses given left the crowd gasping at the poor replies. Dougie Crawford, the newly crowned British Men’s Champion in Downhill, Super G and Super Combined, explained that going to the World Championships in 2009 had inspired him to train harder.
While the meeting resolved a few questions from people there, it did show a number pof people that there is much to be done and maybe the wrong people are in the positions of responsibility at the moment. With no marketing programme or people looking into this, with no communications strategy and with little regard for some of its athletes, there is a lot to be done. One of the main points to come out of the meeting is the complete lack of attraction for racers aged 16 to 19 to stay in the sport. With numbers of athletes staying in the sport following the transition to Junior racing and FIS races reducing year on year, the pool of talent competing in international races is diminishing year on year.
If the BSS expected this to be a quiet and good natured meeting then they were hugely misguided. These are not easy times for the BSS having thrown all their eggs in the technical basket for future programmes, this may prove to be a wrong move. Many would argue that if you put all your eggs in one basket, this puts more pressure on those athletes to perform. Mortimer tried to explain to the crowd that his research from other sports shows that if you concentrate on one route this will reep more benefits. Skiing is not other sports but a very unique sport. The Austrians tried focusing on one area in the past with their World Cup 3 (WC3) programme and this proved wrong so they changed tack.
There were a lot of positives that came out of the meeting. Some of the athletes in attendance at the meeting came out understanding why things were like they were. Both sides of the divide came to the meeting wanting to put their case, some did not perform and others let themselves down. The BSS must now know the dissatisfaction felt and what they have to do to improve. And improve they must to retain interest in the sport both on the back pages of the newspapers and in bringing athletes into the sport. The lack of promotion of the success of its athletes does not help in securing sponsors and this must change.
The 2012 – 13 season may be ending but things need to start moving now. The past is the past, lets move forward now.