The candidates for the Chair of the Alpine, Speed and Telemark Committee put their cases forward

Racer Ready has asked the two candidates for the Chair of the Alpine Speed and Telemark Committee six questions ahead of members of British Ski & Snowboard voting for this position. Konrad Bartelski and Malcolm Erskine are the two candidates and here are their responses (in their own words). … 

1. What do you hope to achieve in this term of office if elected?

Konrad Bartelski: If elected, there is certainly very much work to be done.

Yet before I answer the question, please may I elaborate on the background to Alpine skiing’s current position.

Post the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games was a very bleak time for winter sports.

There was zero financial support allocated to Alpine by the UK Sport as the Olympic results at Turin and Vancouver had not met the objectives set out by UK Sport. And this was at a time when the worldwide recession was strangling the business community and making the search commercial sponsorship extremely challenging.

This was a very hostile climate in which to re-build an Elite Performance capability and most importantly to regain the lost credibility of being a sporting organization capable of delivering Elite Performance results. The credibility of UK Alpine racing had taken a huge battering due to the previous promise of medals at World Championship and Olympic level not being delivered.

The BSS were told very clearly by UK Sport not to present Alpine athletes for awards until we had:

a) A performance pathway

b) Athletes populating that pathway

c) Results at world class level

The biggest challenge to the small group of volunteers was to be able to manage and run any programmes for athletes, who had over the last 20 years had been the beneficiaries of the majority of the previous government funding.

It was very clear that both UK Sport and the commercial sector would measure the BSS performance in Sochi, and hence the priority for all the disciplines had to be to deliver the most creditable results in Russia in 2014. In order to have any chance of success, especially with the very limited resources, there needed to be an innovative and refreshed approach, utilizing the most current and dynamic, and to some perhaps novel, ideas. Certainly continuing with the same programmes was not going to deliver the results, as had been historically demonstrated, plus there simply was not the money available.

A new Performance Director was appointed to review the programmes across the BSS disciplines. This person has 27 years of Elite Performance experience with University of Edinburgh Performance Psychology department, Chelsea FC, Southampton FC, UK Athletics, Gloucester RFC, Leicester Tigers Rugby, England Rugby League, England RFU and British Judo. Programmes run by the leading different Nations were studied and evaluated to see where the best opportunities lay for the UK programmes and what changes should be introduced. New support mechanisms were introduced for some of the key athletes, which did make significant contributions to the result in Sochi and have laid down some highly current new developments for the future Elite performance pathways.

The objective set out by the Board of the BSS was to medal at Sochi. And with 6 top ten snowsports results, including a Bronze Medal, that tough target was met. Had Dave Ryding not had that one mistake early on in the second run, he too was on course for a top ten finish in the Olympic slalom. (77/100ths of a second faster than the Olympic Champion over the last 2/3rds of the second run.)

Sochi did change the perception of the BSS in both the sporting and commercial community. The day after the Winter Games, UK Sports Chief Executive, Liz Nicholl announced that UK Sport would be looking to extend the support to the snowsports programmes. That during the Winter Games more people were watching BBC 2 than ITV demonstrated that the UK TV audience was engaged by seeing the Team GB athletes compete successfully on the biggest stage.

Not with standing achieving that important objective, there has been also success across the board, with World Cup podiums in both the Telemark, and Speed skiing, including winning the World Cup Downhill Speed skiing title.

And this season Alpine has had nearly 100 podium places on the FIS calendar, achieved by 16 different competitors, won a Europa Cup race, placed 2nd in the Europa Slalom Overall Championship, delivered the best ever Team GB World Junior Championship results and achieved two top 20 Olympic results.

Other milestones include

• Formation of an Alpine working group in 2012

• Actioned recommend race alterations to structure on feedback from the working group

• Initiated an in depth and comprehensive Children’s programmes review

• Took guidance from the Alpine community on selection and the Children’s team

• Changed selection processes according to advice.

• Removed the Children’s U14 programme on request of the Alpine community

• Had our most successful Alpine EYOF

• Successfully lobbied the BOA to include Europa Cup results for the OQS.

As a result of the Olympic successes the aspirational value of the skiing and snowboarding had re-captured the imagination of the commercial sector and the top Executives of some of the leading global brands have told me:

“Snowsports has never had such a fantastic opportunity, as everyone was inspired by what they saw on the television” “Now is the time to build on the tremendous work”; “In Northern Ireland, Aimee Fuller is as big as Brand Beckham” Red Bull UK CEO And perhaps most importantly “ How can we get involved”

Yes it has been a tough 4 years, and I appreciate that everyone has had to make adjustments and sacrifices, however this is a time where everyone should be collectively working together to build a more positive future on that new and more solid foundation. It is also a time when change should be considered, as the sporting landscape has changed dramatically in the last 14 years.

So to answer the question:

• There is a four year plan to deliver competitive athletes to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games; one that will very much depend on the future UK Sport funding of snowsports. The full impact of that will become clearer in July.

• For Alpine there needs to be further commercial support, where at all possible and work on that is a priority. I have been fortunate that I have been approached by a number of leading Brands in the UK who have shown interest in building sustainable relationships with the BSS. The interest certainly facilitated by the difference in the commercial value of snowsports pre and post Sochi.

• So yes continuing these relationships and building on these opportunities is the priority and to have a solid International Results Awards in place to financially support the athletes directly as a reward for the achievements he/she has made to enable the athletes to pursue the most effective and suitable programmes. (International Result Award = is a personal award to skiers who are achieving results within International Races. Awards will be calculated by the ASTC and awarded to skiers who are consistently producing race results.)

Malcolm Erskine: Governance of the sport, by the sport, for the sport. That’s the major change I’d like to see for GB Alpine.


 

2. What are the main issues that you believe need to be addressed at the moment?

Konrad Bartelski: I am fully aware that there is a dis-content in the Alpine community, which is completely understandable, as the last four years have been the first where there has been no Government funding what so ever. However dealing with that reality has been extremely challenging for both all the volunteers and the very small team of employees at the BSS.

The same applies to the dis-content regarding the Olympic Qualifying Selection Criteria, as previously there has been more opportunity for UK athletes to participate in the Olympic Winter Games, and yet again the reality is that the philosophy of the BOA has changed, and the BSS had to deliver against new expectations and also the new selection processes that had to meet stringent legal requirements. That has impacted even on the role of a Selector, as it is now the athlete who selects themselves by their performances relative to the published selection criteria. So the selectors are only able to implement an agreed process.

There have been many emotional and personal statements and opinions expressed, which have clouded any debates and also distracted from the most important work, which is to build on the improved public perception of snowsports in the last couple of months and seek to continue to improve the funding for Alpine.

This is a key issue that is being addressed with the formation of the Alpine Business Group to work through the Alpine requirements of the ASTC.

The research and evidence of other Alpine Nations gives a clear direction of travel that will enable more chance for more senior podiums. Introducing an innovative pathway is going to be new and difficult. It will change the excepted norms. It is going to be very bumpy and we are experiencing that now. Hence the sport needs to weather the change and utilize and capitalize on the great work of others.

Published research has demonstrated that the whole emphasis in athletes’ early development should be on the acquisition of skills from across as wide a variety of sporting opportunities as possible. The children’s’ racing and race training should be fun and within the context of a lower pressure environment. Only when the young skiers are more physically developed, and this is now well documented, that then the athletes can be introduced to the serious aspect of competition. This is when the athletes are all on a similar level of skills mastery and physical development. For growing human beings there are too many differing influences to judge race results on a level playing field. This is one of the key factors leading to early drop out from the sport. The additional skills acquired and developed across the whole mountain environment and athletic ability will also make for a much more rounded ski racer. One who can react, adapt and deal with the challenges and progress at Senior level far more rapidly. So the implementation of such modern opportunities is in itself a major organizational and administrative task

Malcolm Erskine: A key issue is the matter of Accountability. With zero new investment secured for the Alpine teams in the last four years, let’s see if a new regime can do better. At all levels, the sport must take responsibility for its professional athletes. So that’s the first thing. Shoring up our team programmes is paramount. Without that, anything else is just playtime.

Let’s also flag up Access and Opportunity. So much talent has been squandered, so many families have despaired of ‘the system’, that the performance pathway has to be cleared of as many snags as possible. In an expensive, demanding sport, the Home Nations and BSS must find ways to work in harmony to encourage ski racing. To give ski racers the best start and the best chance. At the upper end, top thirty finishes are bread and butter in our sport. I would like to see all parties sign up to a new mission statement: the aim for GB Alpine from nursery slopes to the national champs should be to produce as many World Cup point scorers as possible.

I have to say that part of that process will be to thank Konrad and, despite his illustrious career as a racer, ask him now to stand aside as administrator. How many appeals has my opponent actually upheld in his longstanding tenure as head of selectors? How much money raised in his time as chair of Alpine? He talks of ‘raising the bar’ yet his is a classic example of climbing the ladder and pulling it up after you.

Given a demonstrably anti-Alpine BSS performance director (unchecked by the Alpine committee, the chief executive or the board), a core issue for us to face is one of personnel. I don’t want to see a split in the BSS with Alpine going it alone but, purely as his competence impinges on our area of snowsport, Alpine has to be protected from its own performance director. With the prospect of significant funding heading to our sister sports, they will be considering the best ways to administer funds productively. My advice for any freestyler or snowboarder reading this, you deserve better too.


 

3. The standard of world skiing is forever improving. Do you feel that the standard of British Team racers is mirroring this? If not, how do you think that the Alpine Committee can help them achieve their aspirations?

Konrad Bartelski: With better funding comes improved service support , as applied to other successful sports, in physical, psychological, nutritional and technical areas;;a combination of these services will begin to close the gap. And irrespective of the funding issues, that there have been a number of British Alpine Team athletes who have made significant and impressive improvements.

In order to support this, everyone within the sport needs to be active in working to improve the funding. It a shared responsibility of the Alpine, Speed and Telemark Committee and everyone involved in British snowsports to work together to achieve a better financial position, and one that I am actively engaged with.

Malcolm Erskine: I would say our Alpine teams have done very well in spite of the governance. Remember the battle Stefan Moser had to win in order to get Alex Tilley and Charlie Guest experience in their first World Cups. Imagine how much better Dougie Crawford and TJ Baldwin would have performed without the stress of self-funding in a sport where every piece of datum, every training run, matters so much. I know I keep banging on about this, but seriously, no other country would have prevented a top thirty Alpine racer from starting at the Olympics.

Great to see Dave Ryding doing the business. Likewise Charlie Raposo, Jack Gower and co. I take the view that senior athletes should have a strong voice when it comes to the employment of support personnel. We can’t just employ the staff and then go hunting for the athletes. For now, collaborations and co-operation are key.

4. Do you feel it is right that the GB Speed programme has been ‘put on hold’ for the time being with athletes being directed towards a technical programme only?

Konrad Bartelski: What is right and what is wrong? The reality is what is achievable and what isn’t. My background is in the speed disciplines and in an ideal world it would be fantastic to have a speed programme that will deliver Elite performances.

However the BSS is not in that position at this stage. So there has to be a plan to reconstruct from ground zero, hence difficult decisions have to be made. We are not the only Alpine group who has to make tough calls. The US Ski team has nominated 13 less athletes to their programmes this season. That their speed programme is supported by 4 coaches and their technical team has 2 coaches illustrates the financial implications of the two different options, so when finance is very limited there has to be consideration to where can the investment be best placed to deliver the best returns.

That sadly is a business decision and not an emotional one.

However, moving forward with the development of the support services and the International Results Awards the opportunities for individual speed programmes will have more scope for support.

Malcolm Erskine: With speed, experience is everything. Having said that, it always struck me as a shame that Chemmy and TJ didn’t make the most of their slalom skills. In the end, both scored their best world cup results in Super Combi. While ‘technical’ work has to be part of any speed racer’s programme, putting speed programmes ‘on hold’ is a white flag strategy. In fact it isn’t a strategy. It’s surrender. These days it seems you have to hit Copper Mountain and then the NorAm circuit for crucial early season experience. I can’t see that changing anytime soon.


 

5. It is widely acknowledged that the financial state of alpine is poor. How, under your leadership, can this be addressed?

Konrad Bartelski: The best way to address the financial state of Alpine was for snowsports to become more of an attractive proposition to the general public. That is why Sochi was an important milestone for all snowsports. And since then, a number of companies have contacted me directly, excited by the aspirational opportunities for a brand that the snowsports can now offer.

Then additionally there needs to be an evolution of change and the integration of performance pathways that are innovative, inclusive and do not place demands that personal development can only be achieved in the mountains. The UCALN Talent and Coaching symposium revealed the facts and figures that support the many of our latest modifications and recommendations. These modifications are based on sound research and are being adopted by many Olympic sports. They are both generic and specific changes that are implementing tools and methods utilizing skills and programmes that challenge the once the established routines.

Malcolm Erskine: The only promise I’ll make is that I would do my utmost to improve a dire situation. The incumbent officials have failed. And let’s not blame UK Sport. Alpine has been so neglected under the current regime that, without change, I’m not hopeful anyone would be willing to provide serious funding. Whether public, corporate or private.

The Fed has been repackaged and resold enough times. Slick marketing is not the way forward. Getting the sport right comes first. It is essential we define terms of reference for our executive and non-executive personnel. Let’s put our house in order, and then get to work. No longer should we neglect available revenue streams. Let’s send a full team to Vail 2015 for the share of Alpine world champs TV rights. And let’s bang on doors, gather the wealthy parents (those enlightened ones) and supporters of Alpine, and brainstorm for a sport worth funding.

6. Does alpine do enough to help itself in terms of promotion / social media / PR / fundraising? How would you like to see this improve?

Konrad Bartelski: Racer Ready in Meribel raised this question two seasons ago and this was addressed, the following season, with the grateful assistance of SIGB. A professional PR person was appointed to manage the Public Relations for the BSS. It already has been agreed that this role will continue to be supported by the BSS. This also includes an enhanced Twitter and Facebook presence. Yet indeed there remain other areas of marketing, social media etc that will all need to grow and be developed, which is the plan, however this has to be at the same speed as the BBS grows.

Again the reality check is actually how small the administration of the Elite Performance level support actually is and the priorities have to be allocated appropriately. Some of the other disciplines have been successful in the social media areas, with many more athletes posting information than our athletes do. This is an area that is certainly an area of potential growth for the Alpine population and we should learn from the other disciplines and I am sure that we will.

Hence as the BBS grows, so will the opportunities to develop those areas, although they always have to be carefully balanced with investment in the athletes, as the athletes’ development is the priority.

I have no vested interest in the sport, just a passion to see British athletes compete successfully at the highest level

Malcolm Erskine: Simple answer: probably not. To be fair, the BSS office does a lot of good work under the constraint of Snowsports Scotland, England and Wales running separate registration centres (for anyone in the GB sport not holding a FIS license). Excellent BSS secretariat. Professional BSS website. But, where Alpine is concerned, the BSS itself is too cut off from the grass roots. The sport needs to pull together in this regard. Home nations and BSS should dovetail in areas where participation meets performance. The sport should present a coherent pathway. And people who can help should be encouraged to do so.

In my work I meet many capable, professional people at U16 level and younger, involved as parents, who could provide expertise and support for our senior teams. Most recognise that the pursuit of excellence is futile without a fully functioning senior team. Without national teams worth aiming for, there is no target for our young racers.

Several people have asked why they should vote for me. I would say do so if you want a chair of Alpine…

… interested in the athletes enough to know their names (or find out if not),

… on hand to watch the races – from minis to seniors,

… who has a passion for the sport and is visible and approachable,

… in a position to recruit volunteers,

… stands ready to liaise with potential sponsors with a professional and credible approach,

… prepared to work with corresponding heads of other BSS governed disciplines to ensure that Alpine is a key player on the snowsport stage,

… sympathetic to the racers and their parents, who generally want fairly simple things like team websites being kept up to date, transparency about where the money goes and fair selection policies for all age groups,

… who sees the role of chair as one for stewardship rather than supremacy, an opportunity to make stepping stones and remove stumbling blocks.