Origins: Snowboarding As An Olympic Sport
This article has just appeared on Line-S, the Ski Club’s student website. Written by Clem Gray, who’s been writing for the ski club the past two winters, below is she talks about Snowboarding as an Olympic sport.
The route to the rings for snowboarding is one of incensed scandal and minor drug controversy with discontent still simmering today. From the offset, snowboarding embodied revolutionary counter-cultural ideals and the sport’s subsequent relationship with the IOC entrenched these values. So how did this rocky road unfold?
When the news broke that snowboarding would be part of the 1998 Games, the snowboarding community was rocked to the core by this momentous news. The sport, for so long, mocked as an outsider fad was now entering the mainstream. But a sour note accompanied the news. Rather than letting the ISF (the body for snowboarders run by snowboarders) run the qualification system to enter the games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave this responsibility to the Federation Internationale du Ski (FIS). Shockwaves were felt throughout the entire community. This boiled down to riders choosing between supporting the ISF and ergo, boycotting the biggest stage in the sporting world, or selling their snowboarding soul to the devil by relinquishing to FIS’s policies.
As a result, Terje Håkonsen, snowboarding’s most influential star, boycotted the 1998 Olympic games. Quite the statement for the shining prodigy of the sport. Acting as the figurehead for other discontented snowboarders unhappy with the IOC’s decision to appoint the FIS, Håkonsen rallied against the IOC, stating that “the sponsorship is controlled, and people have to suddenly promote Coca Cola and McDonalds”. Even now, Håkonsen notes “the whole thing is corrupt – the IOC is run by a few people, when in reality it is something that should be owned by the whole world and to benefit sport, not just to make them money.”
When the 1998 games took place in Nagano, Japan, Ross Rebagliati won the first gold medal in snowboarding in the men’s giant slalom. He was then briefly stripped of the medal after testing positive for marijuana – only to have his medal reinstated. On the back of this, he’s now opened a medical marijuana shop aptly named, “Ross’ Gold”.
Post-1998, the discontent continued. In 2011, further contentious issues occurred with the FIS insisting that the only way to qualify for the Olympics was to compete in their own FIS sanctioned events. This rendered the top tour events useless as they would not meet the criterion needed to qualify for the Games. Predictably, this was met with outrage. Many believe the IOC capitalised upon snowboarding, aware of its growing vogue amongst a young, devoted following. According to NBC, Shaun White’s halfpipe performance in Vancouver attracted 30 million viewers. You can almost hear the cash registers whirring.
This factious setup split the income for snowboarding athletes. The television networks, whom drive the most revenue of sports income, were left divided as to which event features the best riders. The Olympics? The World Snowboard Tour? The X games? The list goes on. The chasm split attention and resources allocated to snowboarding. Just like the surf industry, we see global corporations capitalising upon the mass market appeal of ‘rebel’ sports, that turn huge profits. Think of snowboarding ideology being sold to the masses – turning huge corporate profits – and diverting funds from the top riders.
Shaun White wins Gold in Vancouver
Håkonsen isn’t a lone wolf when it comes to ousting the IOC’s dominance. Norway pulled out of the 2022 bid for the winter games citing ‘political’ reasons and according to TIME magazine, the IOC: “remains a private organization whose accounting remains off the public record and whose members are appointed rather than democratically elected”.
Yet change is finally underfoot: an announcement this month from the World Snowboard Tour website notes that now the World Snowboard Tour will be an all-inclusive platform for all freestyle snowboard events, finally uniting the competitive freestyle snowboard community. Events are members of the World Snowboard Tour in order to finance the umbrella ranking system that covers the whole sport without bias or commercial pressure. The points gained from each event for athletes go towards the WSPL (World Snowboarding Points List) which gives a fair global ranking system for all to use. The snowboard community is reforming, reuniting and evolving. Now it stands for IOC to do the same.