All is not quiet on the racing front!

Image from www.justjaredjr.com

If the powers that be thought that the Olympic selections fiasco (amongst other recent anomalies) would die down quietly, it seems that this is the straw that has broken the proverbial camels back. … In a public meeting called by The British Ski Academy and Ambition Racing, attended by approximately eighty people at the English Alpine Championships in Bormio, the mood was one of exasperation and dismay at the direction that the sport was taking.

Alpine ski racing is the core of the winter sports governed in the UK by British Ski & Snowboard (BSS). Those athletes that head off to freestyle, ski cross, slopestyle and freeride many will have cut their teeth in the race clubs before they have caught the bug of other disciplines. As one person mentioned as the meeting was breaking up: “British winter sport needs a strong Alpine section for the other disciplines to be successful.”

With this in mind, it seems incredulous that those governing the sport seem hell bent on wanting to break alpine up and destroy the discipline. From incomprehensible criteria to qualify for the Olympic Games to selection for the British Children’s team: There is no rhyme or reason for the direction being taken apart from the hell bent wanton destruction. When questions have been asked as to why things have happened, or not happened, the responses have been vague, misleading and as has also been seen reputed lies.

While the vast majority in the meeting recognised that there was a need for criteria, many also believed that the legacy of London 2012, ‘Inspire a Generation’ was being forgotten and by only sending two athletes to the Games was hardly inspiring racers for the future. Marc Telling (Ambition) and Malcolm Erskine stressed that they were not against the bar being raised but wanted more attainable and realistic criteria. Under the current criteria few of the top under 21 racers in the world would have made the Olympic Games this year.

There was a lack of faith by those at the meeting directed at the current incumbents of the position of Performance Director and Chair of the Alpine Committee. The general feeling was that they are not the right people for the job at this moment in time. From an email sent by the Performance Director to a parent of a racer that had not been selected for the Olympics, he stated in the email that “Alpine also succumbs to the well-known fact that FIS points are blatantly fixed by ski racers…” that was subsequently withdrawn and an apology issued by Paddy Mortimer (The BSS Performance Director), many felt that he has no passion or interest in alpine and that the quicker he vacated his position the better.

With many of the Clubs, Race Academies, the Chairs of two large organisations, Snowsport England and BARSC (British Alpine Racing Ski Clubs) as well as parents and about half of the Alpine, Speed and Telemark Committee chaired by Konrad Bartelski, plus many parents at the meeting, it was the input of two British Olympians that carried the most weight with the assembled audience.

Ross Green, a 2002 Olympian, admitted that on the current criteria, he would not have gone. Ross finished 15th in the Super Combined in Salt Lake City. Green also stressed that he would like to see more coaching input into the selection process and the criteria setting. Green heads up the Coach Education Programme for BASI.

Yet it was the input of 2002 and 2006 Olympian Finlay Mickel that stirred the most thought. Mickel explained that while all the athletes knew the criteria required it was the fact that the athletes had not been supported to get the results required that was the important missing element. For Mickel “it is about supporting our best athletes to make that criteria.” Mickel is sure that if TJ Baldwin and Dougie Crawford had been supported, the results would have come. Mortimer has gone on record explaining that he wanted to put mental toughness into the programme. Mickel added: “Getting a better programme is a winnable battle.”

It is not just those that attended the meeting that are in agreement that the Performance Director, Paddy Mortimer’s time at British Ski & Snowboard is up: The parent of one racer, Richard Gower (father of Jack, the number 4 ranked skier in the under 21’s in the world) not at the meeting explained via email that Britain had a higher bar than any nation in the world and continued to explain that he thought it absurd that the BSS continued to hide behind the BOA. While Dave Edwards has explained in the past that he makes no apologies for wanting to be better, it is the level of the criteria set that has appalled most of the fans of British Winter sport.

Support is one thing yet with the lack of it, Mickel explained, he had seen the loss of headspace to compete in the top athletes: They had lost the passion to compete, he explained, that “to compete at the top level at the World Cup and the Olympics you need to focus on your day, not everyone else who will try to drag you down. You need a programme there for you with coaching support, support back home and I have been there with those guys on all the challenges and I saw them lose the passion and the love of ski racing and I know if they still had that through the BSS then they would have gone. It is not about the criteria, it is about the clear pathway that our young guys want to see.”

With the Olympics now on, it is not just about the lack of opportunity but, as Malcolm Erskine (British Ski Academy) explained, the BSS will have lost out on about CHF120,000 from TV revenue after not sending a full team to the Schladming World Championships. In an era where there is precious little money for the alpine teams, this would have helped significantly.

The general talk of the meeting was about sending decent athletes to the events; blooding young outstanding racers. While the current ‘officials’ claim to be professional, it was put to the floor that we are so far behind in the management in the sport it is embarrassing.

The meeting spoke also about the lack of coaches’ input into selection. The current group of people that are running the sport through the Alpine, Speed and Telemark Committee, have very little front line experience: There is one coach on the committee (Robin Kellen, who is there to represent the interests of Wales rather than in a coaching capacity.); the athletes rep is drifting further away from the sport and it was felt that more performance involvement was needed. There is a need for new people to step up and want to be part of the set up.

While the sport is very fractious at the moment, there was a feeling of cohesiveness being needed if the sport is to move forward: The right people in the right positions are needed.

As the meeting wound up two votes were put to the floor, firstly it was unanimously agreed that there is a need for change. The second proposal was a vote of no confidence in either Paddy Mortimer (Performance Director) or Konrad Bartelski (Chairman of the Alpine, Speed and Telemark Committee) and approximately 80% voted in favour of this. The remaining 20% abstained. It was interesting that there were no votes against either proposal, especially when there were three member of the Alpine, Speed and Telemark Committee at the meeting: Lloyd Jenkins, Robin Kellen and Tony Willis.

While many wanted change, a number of people interestingly explained that they would not be putting their name to the list, as they feared reprisals against their children. While Dave Edwards (CEO British Ski & Snowboard) has in the past explained that he would make sure this did not happen, there is an endemic fear of parents for the future of their children’s racing career.

While the straw poll show of hands was pretty damning, Robin Kellen (Snowsport Wales) and Georgina Morris (BARSC and Kandahar) were clear in explaining that no one in the past had put themselves forward to do the job of Chair of the Alpine, Speed and Telemark Committee apart from Bartelski and that the BSS had twisted the arm of Bartelski to do the job. Bartelski had accepted reluctantly it was explained.

If the state of ski racing is to be compared with other sports, those leading the sport would have been sacked for the lack of success on and off the slopes in recent years.

Is the time for change now? The vast majority of those attending the meeting in Bormio believe it is.

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