Sport Climbing - 19 Dec 2012 - By Callum Murray in Lausanne
Officials of the International Federation of Sport Climbing today attempted to combine a ‘philosophical’ argument for the uniqueness of their sport together with some hard facts on its universality and participation levels, as they sought to persuade the International Olympic Committee’s programme commission of the sport’s credentials for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games.
Sport climbing is competing against karate, roller sports, softball, squash, wakeboard, wushu and a combined bid from baseball and softball for inclusion in the 2020 programme, with only one sport likely to be chosen. All seven international federations involved made presentations to the IOC in Lausanne today.
In an exclusive interview with Sportcal immediately after the IFSC’s presentation, Marco Maria Scolaris, the federation’s president, said: “Our main message was that they should choose us because we are not comparable with any other sport. Climbing is an expression of something primordial that belongs to human beings. The movement of climbing is one of the motor skills that generated the development of human beings. I told the commission, if a small child was here he would grab the table and pull himself up to try to explore the upper world. Movement in the vertical world is something that is not in the Olympics [at present].”
The IFSC was formed in 2007 when it split with the UIAA, the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, which includes other disciplines such as Alpinism, to form its own competitive climbing federation. This was quickly accepted for membership of SportAccord, the international sports federations umbrella body, and the sport featured at the 2009 World Games in Kaoshiung.
Scolaris continued: “It is one thing to have a good philosophical reason [for inclusion in the Olympics], but you have to prove that from these roots you can have a good sport. We tried to show what has happened in the last five years from the moment that the federation was founded. We are dedicated to a dynamic but solid structure, with good anti-doping policies and care for the health of the athletes. We also aim to create a platform that is attractive to media and sponsors, in an environment that for new sports is very difficult. We tried to show that we’re starting from a good point.”
In July last year, the federation told Sportcal that it was still formulating its campaign strategy after being taken by surprise by its appearance on the shortlist of sports that are being considered for the games. The process is continuing, Scolaris told Sportcal today, with a decision that was taken only after the sport’s world championship in Paris this autumn to include all three of its disciplines in the Olympic bid.
The three disciplines are: ‘lead’ (characterised by Scolaris as “the higher the better”), in which the athlete has to climb as high as possible up an artificial 15-metre wall including difficult overhangs; ‘speed’ (“the faster the better”), in which the athletes compete, either individually or as part of a two-man, one-woman relay team, to climb a homologated 15-metre wall as fast as possible; and ‘bouldering’ (“the stronger the better”), in which the athlete is not roped up and must deal with a sequence of problems on a four-metre wall, with a soft landing on mattresses if he or she falls off.
Initially the federation had considered including only the lead discipline in its application, on the basis that this would restrict the number of athletes and the expense of the facilities required (both issues are known to be concerns of the IOC). However, as a result of trials at the world championships, Scolaris said that it had concluded that it would be “more interesting to include the three disciplines, with one combined medal at the end. It would not increase the cost much, but would give an opportunity to express the three disciplines.
He added: “It could also allow us to extend the event to up to four days. We were asked by the commission if we were sure we would be able to manage the final ranking. That was a good question and the answer was, in Paris everything worked well. We have also changed the score system, and that is now working well. Another result is that more people are now taking part in all three disciplines.”
The federation has also raised the seating capacity required for the event at the Olympics after the 8,000-capacity facility at the world championships was a sell-out. Initially it had told the IOC that 5,000 seats would be sufficient, but it has now raised this to 10,000.
Asked what the costs of the competition facilities involved are, Scolaris said: “The cost depends. It’s very flexible. If you want to build a wall that stays as a legacy, such as the one built for the World Games, which was under the [overhanging] roof of the velodrome, but outside, it costs about €250,000 [$332,000]. But if it’s temporary, it can be less. The good thing is you can really put them [artificial climbing walls] anywhere. If an Olympic venue is [otherwise] under-used, you can use climbing as a supplement.”
Asked why sport climbing wants to be in the Olympics, Scolaris said: “Today non-Olympic sports are facing many difficulties. The main difficulty is limited resources, we don’t have access to the solidarity programme of the IOC. We are constantly receiving requests from poor countries around the world. For instance, we cannot go to Africa now with the limited resources we have. We need the support of someone at higher level. We recognise the social value of our sport but we cannot go further if we’re not in the Olympics.”
In response to a question from the commission, the federation said that its budget for the last four-year cycle was about $2 million. However, it stressed that this figure is growing and that in 2013, it is budgeting to spend about $1 million, in part thanks to a growing contribution from sponsorship and television rights revenues.
At present, this contribution makes up about 15 per cent of its budget, but next year it is expected to total 20 per cent, and in the next three years the federation’s goal is for it to grow to about 30 per cent. Other sources of funding are calendar and membership fees.
Scolaris argued that while there are 25 million climbers around the world, this figure makes up only about 10 per cent of outdoor enthusiasts, a market that companies are eager to tap. He said: “In the last few months we see more and more interest from companies focusing on the leisure side of sport. We see an interest from outdoor industry, and we’re already in talks with outdoor companies.”
In 2010, the federation gained IOC recognition and it now comprises 78 national federations, “plus three we are scrutinising and another 10 or 12 knocking at the door,” according to Scolaris. Between 50 and 60 of these sent competitors to the world championships in Paris in September, with all continents represented, he added.
The IOC’s programme commission will submit a full report on the shortlisted sports to the IOC’s executive board at the beginning of next year.
In February 2013, the executive board will select 25 out of the existing 26 ‘core’ sports to present to the IOC session in Buenos Aires in September 2013. A shortlist might then be compiled, or all of the applicant sports, plus the existing sport which could be replaced, could go forward to a vote at the session.