BSS AGM – Financial health improving and relationships getting better says Brewer

Over the last few months there has been a lot of debate from two of the four disciplines run by British Ski and Snowboard (BSS) in getting more of their constituent members to become members of the National Governing body. The Annual General Meeting that took place at the British Olympic Association offices in London on 10 September was a … sparsely attended affair though there were a number of people attending holding proxy votes for those that could not attend. This was the occasion for the accounts to be passed, the auditors to be reappointed and for questions to be asked. It was not a case of Alpine looking to get one over on the other disciplines. As one board member told Racer Ready, ‘we need all four disciplines to be strong.’

John Brewer, Chairman of the Board of the BSS, lead the AGM and laid out how things are for the BSS. The medal won at the olympics by Jenny Jones had helped to contribute to an increase in participants across the country Brewer explained as well as a welcome boost in funding. The boost in funding is ring fenced for the Park and Pipe programme yet this award, Brewer felt, could not have been dreamt of four years ago in the aftermath of Snowsport GB going bust.

The optimism felt by the board in that they sent athletes to Sochi hoping for a medal now means that they will send a team to the 2018 Olympics expecting medals, albeit in Park and Pipe events. It was evident through the meeting that it is this discipline that is now the primary sport they are focusing on even though the numbers participating in Alpine are greater – Results talk loudly in an age where the finding from UK Sport dictates what happens whether you like this or not.

The subject of funding is a very emotive issue with those involved in snow sport. After the collapse of the previous operation, hard decisions had to be taken and no one would want the same situation to be repeated. With this in mind Brewer reported that the board took the decision to try and build a reserve up. “The BSS is now in a robust financial position,” Brewer reported. The accounts of the BSS are up on the BSS website in a shortened format.

The board acknowledged that there had been issues that needed to be overcome through the year and a closer working relationship with the Home Nations has seen meetings taking place. This is certainly a step in the right direction as is more dialogue with the athletes and this is an initiative that is long overdue.

The selection issues for the Olympics was a hotly debated issue at the time  of the Olympics and the BSS commissioned an independent review on the process that reported back on the morning of the meeting saying that the policy was correct yet communication regarding the standards required could have been better. The report sent back to the BSS by Wharton Consulting will be on the BSS website soon.

Once John Brewer finished his statement the floor was open for questions and while the financials were the first topic to be discussed, questions were raised on why the Alpine Children’s team was run through the BSS when they dealt with Elite performance was defended by Dave Edwards. The money that is donated to the the GB Children’s Team by an anonymous benefactor is ring fenced for the Alpine Children’s team it was explained.

Gordon Crawford took to the floor and you could see certain members of the Board sitting in the centre of the table at the front of the room, sitting uneasily as he laid out his points criticising the management of Alpine. With numbers at the British Championships on the decline as explained by Crawford, Konrad Bartelski jumped in to explain that this was across the board internationally not just in Britain. With FIS licence holders going down rapidly in the last four years and numbers racing at the GB Championships also diminishing, there is a definite feeling of the discipline not being nurtured at all.

It was also pointed out, and agreed on by Emily Sarsfield, one of only two athletes to attend the meeting, that there is a uneasy feeling that those people that put themselves above the parapet are being shot at by those in the positions of power. While this was denied by Brewer, the numbers and incidents speak volumes.

As each point was put forward through the meeting it was sad to notice the Board defending actions behind the same line of reply: UK Sport. While results speak and this is why Park and Pipe have received a substantial award from UK Sport, there was no explanation as to how the BSS will be looking to improve the lot of Alpine and the other impoverished disciplines it runs the programmes of. There was certainly a feeling after the meeting that the BSS are run by the rules laid out by UK Sport. With the City of London and its huge mass of commercial entities on the door step, there is certainly a feeling that little is being done to tap into this market.

The support from Delancey is definitely welcome and the hard work that goes into maintaining this is acknowledged. While the Alpine Business Group is looking at ways of improving the non UK Sport funding coming into the sport, this will be a long and hard road to achieve. Looking from the outside in at the moment, it does appear that the BSS have thrown all their eggs into the one basket. While reaching the criteria that UK Sport set out for funding means the standards are raised, achievable and credible goals do need to be set so that funding opportunities that arise from TV money are not missed in the future. It was interesting to note that qualifying standards for the 2015 World Alpine Championships have been set out and are very different to the 2013 Championships, something that produced a grin from Paddy Mortimer, the Performance Director, sitting at the front.

Dave Edwards, CEO of BSS,  responded to the accusations laid at the management of the BSS Alpine programme and while it is agreed that the body was morally and financially bankrupt when he started out in 2010, Edwards explained that he would gladly move on from his position if someone who can deliver better value to the organisation comes forward and is approved by the Board.

Listening to the questions and the answers given, there could be no doubt that the BSS see Alpine as the unruly child of the BSS family. Yes results talk and the financial award from UK Sport for the Park and Pipe programme is looked on enviously by Alpine. What the vast majority of the Alpine members of BSS would like to see is a performance pathway from the beginning to the World Cup. Adrien Pery, who has taken the Alpine, Telemark and Speed Skiing Chair on a temporary basis, explained that Communication is something that the BSS needs to improve and is working hard on, both internally and externally. Robin Kellen from Snowsport Wales pointed out that there was a need to develop programs as to how the pathway happens. There are four sports and all need to be looked after not just Park and Pipe as they have the money.

There is certainly a ‘Them and Us’ feeling between the rank and file and the Board, rarely do you see Board members at events (bar the Delancey British Championships) and this is something is maybe affecting the relationship between parents, athletes, coaches and the Board. If members of the board maybe attended events, they could gauge the feeling of what the membership want and how they feel. Meetings are great but it does come back to the feeling of putting the head above the parapet waiting to be shot at. Chatting while at events could bring ideas forward and solutions.

We all need and want Alpine and all the disciplines to be successful, working together is vital and it needs to come from all sides.