FIS rejects TTR proposal, talks end

Chas Guldemond created WAS, the snowboarding riders' union, in order to give athletes a greater voice in the Olympic process. Stef Cande/ESPN Images

The TTR has received an official response from FIS regarding the joint Olympic Qualification System proposal it submitted last month. The answer: Thanks, but no thanks.

In a letter sent on Wednesday to the TTR regarding the decision, FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis stated that, "FIS is open to cooperating with TTR and its member Events to continue to develop the sport ... However this is a process that needs to begin at a lower level than the top events in order to build trust and understanding between the organizations and persons involved."

"We find it positive that FIS has expressed its willingness to cooperate," replied TTR president Reto Lamm in a return correspondence Friday morning. "However, your proposed solution is already a reality on the lower competition levels ... What [it] does not address is the current situation of the top-level events, which drive the development of snowboarding."

Lamm then went on to state that, with the current FIS Olympic snowboarding plan, "The following problems remain:

  • Calendaring and scheduling for the top riders remains unsolved

  • The top rider's demand to find a solution in the elite level events and Olympic qualification is not answered

  • The freestyle snowboard competition landscape remains divided

  • Snowboarders want a transparent and democratic process in all decision-making systems that have an effect on our daily lives and occupation.

  • We do not have a satisfying answer for riders, the industry, or the freestyle snowboard competition world for a problem that has divided the sport for a long time"

  • The FIS decision to pass on the TTR proposal marks the end of a year of TTR efforts to work with FIS to address the concerns expressed by competitive snowboarders about the schedule and structure of the competition calendar and quality of events in the Olympic qualification season.

    "The response from FIS gives no answers to the issues that top-level snowboarding is facing today," said TTR President, Reto Lamm, in an official statement. "Never in the history of snowboarding has the door been left so wide open for a reasonable collaboration between TTR and FIS. With this response from FIS, the hope for a joint, united Olympic Qualification System in freestyle snowboarding has disappeared for the foreseeable future."

    TTR negotiation efforts date back to early last winter, when rumors that slopestyle would be added to the 2014 Winter Olympic calendar had just started to swirl. Historically, the FIS -- the organization empowered by the International Olympic Committee to run Olympic snowboarding -- does not have a stellar track record of running top quality high-level snowboarding events. Their first major slopestyle effort, at the FIS World Championships in January, was regarded by many as a failure. "The course and the judging were not ideal," said FIS Slopestyle World Champion Seppe Smits, in the most politically neutral quote he could manage after he won the event.

    Following this, the top competitive slopestyle snowboarders (future Olympic athletes) gathered at TTR founding member Terje Haakonsen's event, The Arctic Challenge, to officially express concerns that they hoped to see addressed going into the next Winter Olympic Games. In February, they signed and presented to the IOC the "Snowboarding 180 Olympic Charter," which stated that:

  • Snowboarding should be run by snowboarders.

  • We recognize the Olympics as a potential pinnacle event of snowboarding, but only if our voices are heard.

  • All snowboard events and organizations throughout the world must listen to the driving force of our sport: the athletes.

  • Snowboarders want a transparent and democratic process in all decision-making systems that have an effect on our daily lives and occupation.

  • Snowboarding will never reach its full potential with conflicting dates of major snowboarding events.

  • We do not want a new world tour for slopestyle qualifications.

  • We want an Olympic ranking to reduce the date conflicts of major events.

  • We believe the International Olympic Committee has a responsibility to listen to our voices and make way for the unleashing of snowboarding's true potential.

  • We want all powers to start a dialogue to find a solution for the better good of the sport.

  • Preserving the status quo in snowboarding is not an option.

  • At this time members of the TTR had already reached out to the IOC and the FIS to begin negotiations to address these concerns -- the thought being that since TTR has been running a global snowboarding tour with high-level slopestyle events that are respected by all competitive snowboarders for a decade, they might have some expertise to bring to the table that was worth listening to. Meanwhile, snowboarders formed a riders' union in order to add their voice to the negotiations.

    In June, a collaborative "Freestyle Task Force" was formed -- a kind of supercommittee made up of members of the TTR, athlete representatives, and FIS snowboarding, brought together to come up with recommendations for Olympic judging and qualification systems that addressed the concerns laid out by future Olympic athletes and worked for all involved. The plan was to submit their joint negotiated proposal this fall for review in the FIS fall meetings.

    Then in August, top-level members of the FIS ignored the work of the task force and submitted a FIS-backed plan for an Olympic Qualification System directly to the IOC, which the IOC promptly approved, that looks exactly like the one in place in 2010.

    The FIS then proceeded to lock down a judging system in October, with a head FIS judge officially stating that the TTR SLS judging system couldn't be considered because it had too much potential for corruption.

    Meanwhile, on the freestyle ski side, the FIS appears to be working beautifully with freeskiing's organizing body, the AFP, to develop a new set of judging rules that works for both parties.

    In a final effort to mediate negotiations between the FIS and TTR before they completely fell apart, the IOC called for a private meeting with top-level members of both organizations. Following this, the TTR submitted a final proposal for a joint Olympic Qualification System that would allocate spots on the 2014 Winter Games snowboarding rosters based on the results of eight events -- four FIS and four TTR.

    This would allow snowboarders already committed to the TTR tour to continue to compete in events that are important to them, while decreasing the amount of events overall they would be required to enter in order to earn qualifying spots for their respective countries. As it stands, the current FIS qualification period and system is a long, grueling slog fest that athletes from smaller countries are forced to compete in from beginning to end in order to earn a spot at the Games.

    The official FIS rejection of this proposal on Wednesday has ended all current, and possible future, negotiation efforts with TTR.

    "TTR, with its innovative sports organization structure, will continue to develop concepts and strategies," said Lamm, "in order to unify snowboarding on a global level based on the values of the sport and in collaboration with the progressive players in the snowboarding community."