I admit it. Since my first FIS Congress, we’ve traveled to some pretty interesting locations. Well known cities like Rio, Melbourne and Vancouver. Historic cities like Dubrovnik, Prague and Capetown. But while my passport has a few exotic stamps, but we go there to work.
Usually around 1,000 attendees will show up. Sounds like an enormous number, but when you break it down into the six Olympic disciplines (alpine, freestyle, snowboard, ski jumping, nordic combined and cross country) representing the more than 100 member nations of the International Ski Federation (FIS), it’s not a surprising number at all.
Snowsport is a world sport: from northern and southern winter regions and the mountains, to indoor halls and emerging growth economies. We are by far the largest winter sport. Over 30,000 registered international athletes make up the “FIS Family” along with supporting coaches, volunteers, race organizers. Not included in this number are the even wider National activities which telescope the total reach of athletes from the earliest stages to Masters by a significant multiple.
The primary business has always been selection of future World Championship host venues. Within each discipline are the technical committees and subcommittees which focus on the management of the sport. Everything from the high profile World Cup events to children’s programs to grassroots development are under the microscope.
The hot topics in alpine for the 50th FIS Congress, include a new starting order concept for Alpine World Cup speed events of downhill and super G; a potential adjustment to the men’s GS ski (for season 2017-18); widening the opportunity for 2-run downhills; the health of our speed events.
While higher profile discussions dominate the corridor talk, a long list of rule changes, confirmation of race calendars and administrative detail from streamlining banking to site evaluations ensure continued smooth operation.
There is a constant debate about the health of ski racing. While we must keep focused on constant improvement, consider:
- four new race organizers in 2015-16 in La Thuile (Italy), Jeogseon (Korea – 2018 Olympic test event), Jasna (Slovakia) and Soldeu (Andorra)
- broadcast hours of World Cup races has increased 30% over the past five years
- total TV audience increased to 3.3 billion viewers, the highest number ever
- media impact per race remains stable
- participants at the FIS Children’s Races hit a new high
Another hot topic – how do the different events measure up? Is it true that no one cares about the alpine combined? Are new events generating interest? Using a measure of media impact per race, slalom leads followed closely by giant slalom, the city event, downhill and the alpine combined (super G and Team Event lag behind). Impact across the top five is close, ranging from 998 million impressions per race (SL) to 824 (AC).
Knowing where we’ve come from is important to give us tools to examine where we need to go – and a lot of discussion is focused on the future of the sport. The Athletes Commission provide direct feedback from the athletes of the World Cup. Their active participation in FIS Council and the key committees and subcommittees is invaluable.
No one shies away from tough discussions. Perhaps the most significant challenge that faces the sport today is the dramatic decline of downhill at the grassroots level. A presentation by a working group of the European Alpine Nations (OPA) to the Alpine Youth subcommittee underscored the challenge. The number of female athletes participating in downhill from these seven nations has declined 40% over the past five years.
As a result of the decline, race fields are too small and clubs do not want to organize races, volunteer experience diminishes, training opportunities disappear – a dangerous spiral. It’s a world-wide challenge that affects organizers and ski clubs from Schweitzer Basin (USA) to Zauchensee (AUT) to Kimberley (CAN) to La Parva (CHI).
The question is what are we doing about it?
The OPA nations have formed a working group to coordinate FIS race calendars for speed across the seven countries for next season. As well, they are undertaking a project to provide training opportunities and races focused on ladies. The Nor-Am subcommittee has proposed inclusion of two-run downhills into the Continental Cup level.
The Alpine Youth subcommittee will hold a workshop at the autumn meeting, focus on the issue to share ideas and tactics. We all know it is expensive to build a safe, challenging field of play. And we need to be flexible and innovative with an overall goal of establishing a healthy base for the sport. Constructive ideas are welcome.
While international sport diplomacy always simmers in the background, the tremendous amount of experience around the committee tables and the passion for our sport makes every FIS Congress an adventure. The wealth of experience comes from all corners of our sport: current and recently retired athletes, coaches, officials, administrators and volunteers brought together with a common mutual goal: to work hard to make every year better than the last