Along with the creation of Life On Hold and Tomorrow I Will Be Gone, I’ve been finishing university. I’ve recently completed my dissertation on the growth of rock climbing and thought I’d share a few ideas from it.
One of the main problems with the sponsorship of climbers in the UK is that the athletes do not deal with the specific companies whose products they represent (there are a few exceptions of course). Instead, the majority of athletes (including everyone interviewed for this research project) deal with the UK distributors for these companies. The problem that arises from this is that there is not as much money in the industry available for the athletes. These climbers are expected to write blogs, get photos of themselves climbing and attend industry events and all for some free climbing shoes and clothing. It seems to me that the coverage these companies are getting far outweighs the return for the climbers. A front page on UKC will get thousands of hits!
After watching Shauna Coxsey qualify in second for the IFSC Bouldering World Cup Final this morning, I got thinking… Shauna is climbing next to other women who get paid to climb professionally. Dornian (2003:287) is certainly wrong when he states that ‘focus can be kept on training and competition without the worry of taking time and attention away from athletic concerns to accumulate resources.’ Free shoes and clothing cannot pay for travel costs, entry fees and accommodation. In most sports, when an athlete has reached such a high level, they will receive some degree of financial assistance. Moreover, the British Bouldering Team is run by the BMC who provide very little financial assistance to their team. In terms of sponsorship, Britain is significantly behind most countries in terms of funding for athletes.
Furthermore, I think the UK is overlooked in terms of what athletes can offer companies. Climbers such as Micky Page, Shauna Coxsey, Dave Barrans, Ned Feehally, Dan Varian and Chris Webb-Parsons (I’ll include him as a Brit to bolster my argument) are all world class and for the most part are doing something different. I’m bored of the ‘my 8c is harder than your 8c‘ media coverage. That’s all I read when I go on the main climbing websites these days. Micky has repeated the majority of Europe’s hardest boulder problems and is virtually unknown compared to other climbers in his class such as Daniel Woods and Paul Robinson. How hard could Micky climb if he was paid the same amount as the Americans to just travel and climb? The same goes for everyone else.
This raises other interesting debates. If money were to be given to these people, I think this group would strive to do something different to others that receive financial assistance. How many people got paid to go to Font and Switzerland last year and consolidate the standards that people like Fred Nicole, Klem Loskot, Malc, Ben and Jerry had already pioneered in the past couple of decades? I can think of a few and I can think of a few crap eliminates they put up and repeated too. All whilst Fred was probably off in the Himalayas somewhere, finding the Asian equivalent of this:
So my argument is all jumbled, confused and more of a rant than anything. I do consider myself to be quite jaded with the whole climbing scene/industry and I think several things need to be done to improve the quality of media coverage and to help support athletes; these two things are interconnected. Firstly I think companies have the responsibility to help out climbers who strive to do different things, go to different places and who are committed to developing themselves personally. When this happens, the climbing media will become far more interesting. Less 8b+s that have been repeated more times than I count on my fingers and more first ascents in beautiful places, pushing the sports boundaries and hopefully less of an emphasis on grades. This is what I consider progression in the sport.
I respect no one more than climbers like Fred Nicole, Klem Loskot, Dave Graham, Chris Sharma, Dan Varian and countless others who perhaps don’t make the headlines twice a week , but are out there developing the sport. Sort it out.
In other news, here’s some reviews of Life on Hold:
and join the discussion here: http://ukbouldering.com/board/index.php/topic,19857.0.html