Column: Snowboarders’ interests plowed aside by ski federation

Sports Beat by Heather Robertson

Snowboarders and skiers have never seen eye to eye.

Long relegated as the rowdy, rude and offensive ones on the hills, snowboarders have had to fight for every bit of recognition given to them.

Over the years, it was the snowboarders who often became the centre of ski hill debates; a bunch of young punks who wreaked havoc on the mountain.

If Ross Rebagliati, the Canadian snowboarder who took home a gold medal in the 1998 Olympics, used the words “ragin” and “rad” on television, skiers patronizingly shook their heads and wondered aloud about the legitimacy of such a “sport.”

On any given day, snowboarders now outnumber skiers at many ski hills.

Amazingly, there was a time when it was illegal to even snowboard at some mountains.

The argument was that snowboarding wasn’t a real sport, and it just didn’t require the same athleticism as skiing.

It was those same purists who argued against snowboarding being included in the Olympics as a competitive sport. “It’s only recreational,” they said, but snowboarders worldwide proved otherwise.

By constantly pushing the boundaries of techical difficulty, snowboarders thought they had come so far…

In 1998, snowboarding made its debut in both the downhill slalom and half-pipe competitions as an Olympic sport. The much-trumpeted arrival of snowboarders at the Olympic level, however, was nothing if not disappointing.

At Nagano, it seemed that the media preferred to focus on the controversial nature of Rebagliati’s medal and the “deviant subculture” of snowboarding rather than the actual performance of the athletes.

Snowboarding was seen as a desperate attempt by Olympic organizers to appeal to the younger generation. To many, snowboarders were simply dismissed as youthful dope-smokers with little real talent.

To make matters worse, the International Olympic Committee granted the International Skiing Federation jurisdiction over Olympic snowboarding.

This meant that snowboarders’ interests were once again pushed aside. Unknown to many, for the past 10 years an International Snowboarding Federation has existed to represent the interests of snowboarders.

Terje Haakinson, arguably one of the best snowboarders in the world, boycotted the 1998 Winter Olympics in response to that decision, and the IOC has done very little to stem the growing resentment that has followed.

Many other world-class snowboarders, including Canadians, have avoided competing at the Olympic level or plan to follow in Haakinson’s footsteps as long as the International Skiing Federation continues to preside over them.

To deny these athletes the chance to be represented at the highest level of their sport is regrettable, but even more so is the fact that ultimately it is snowboarding as a sport which will be stifled by the bureaucracy, and that will affect Canadian athletes.

Canadian snowboarders put on a good showing at the 1998 games, but the next generation of Olympic athletes will exclude many impressive snowboarders who fundamentally disagree with the ruling.

People have complained that the sport is not as technically impressive as skiing, but how could it be if you’re not watching the best athletes compete?

It is also likely that the situation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City will only be worse, when many more snowboarders refuse to participate because of the IFS’s mandate.

The argument has long been made that snowboarders and skiers are not alike – the demographics and the culture that they represent are very different.

Given that dichotomy, why should a federation of skiers govern a sport to which they have been so strongly opposed? Furthermore, snowboarders should be allowed to choose who they would rather have govern them.

Until snowboarding is given the recognition that it deserves, snowboarders at the Olympic level will continue to be represented by a federation which does not have their best interests in mind, and ultimately snowboarding in Canada will suffer.