Canada’s Sean McColl, president of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC)’s Athletes’ Commission, reveals how climbers are getting involved with the IFSC’s preparations for its Olympic debut in Tokyo, and how the commission is helping give athletes a voice on an international platform.

  • Sean McColl is president of the IFSC Athletes’ Commission
  • With sport climbing set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo, Sean is determined to provide a platform for athletes in the build-up to 2020
  • Ahead of the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum, he outlines what the Commission is doing to support athletes and why it’s vital to do so

The whole of sport climbing is really excited to be part of the Olympic family and to have the opportunity to compete at Tokyo 2020, but with that come lots of challenges, and the IFSC Athletes’ Commission (AC) is there to try and address those issues and support you as athletes.

Paris 2024 has also put forward sport climbing for one of their additional sports at the 2024 Olympic Games. We will almost double the number of Olympian climbers, and, while lots of discussions is sure to follow, I’m super happy sport climbing is still growing within the Olympic movement.

Much of what Olympic participation means is new for sport climbers, such as the increased media coverage and the long-term preparation, but also for our event organisers and host venues. As you’ll know, this is all really fun, but it’s also really challenging – that’s where the AC can play a part.

There are many different departments in the IFSC, and when one of them wants to get your opinions on something they will come to me. I can give my view, but if it’s something that requires a bit more discussion or testing I will bring it to the rest of the Commission, and we will come to a consensus on whether the proposal is beneficial for you as a group of athletes as a whole.

Three into one

The IFSC is split into three disciplines – boulder, lead and speed – but the 2020 Olympic discipline is actually going to be a combined event, so athletes will have to figure out how to do three quite different disciplines on the same weekend.

On the Commission, we have four representatives from each discipline, and a lot of our recent conversation has been on how that process is going to work, as well as qualification for the Olympic Games.

We don’t aim to provide you with advice on training; much of what the Commission discusses is more on logistics. One big challenge is how close the events are together. For example, we consider what it’s like for you to get up at 6 a.m., do an event at 7.30 a.m. and then a second discipline later that morning. We’re considering issues such as when you’re going to eat, how you recover and what would be an adequate minimum rest period between the events.

Giving back and going forward

The IOC Athletes’ Commission has been very helpful, and cooperation is important. I’ve sat in on many of their open conference calls and meetings. The principal outreach I ask from them concerns how to engage my Commission more. We only actually meet in person maybe once a year, so even just finding time and space for that meeting can be challenging.

With the inclusion of sport climbing at the Olympics, the circuit has grown – which is really exciting – but where we used to have 80 competitors we now sometimes have double that.

Additionally, as we don’t have an established circuit of the Olympic-style combined event, it’s becoming increasingly hard to find suitable event hosts and organisers. Not only does each discipline have its own wall structure, but if there’s a wall outside, it has to be the same for every competitor, so we run into issues with the weather or temperature fluctuations throughout the day. It’s on these sorts of issues that the AC provides a voice for athletes.

I felt it was paramount that athletes like you and I not only had a voice, but were respected by other competitors, by the event organisers and vice versa.

Passion play

I’ve been climbing competitively for over 20 years now, and I’ve seen the sport evolve so much over those two decades. When I started on the World Cup circuit, something you saw was a lack of respect for the athletes. Once I got more involved in the competition circuit, a position on the AC opened up. I applied to be the President because I felt it was paramount that athletes like you and I not only had a voice but were respected by other competitors, by the event organisers and vice versa.

I can’t wait to see the next generation of climbers come into the sport and get on the circuit. I think climbing has a real sense of family values. My door is always open, so please visit; it’s a matter of communication, and it’s about giving you someone to talk to should you need it. You hope the bad things don’t happen, but it’s important to be prepared for it when they do.

Athlete representatives from all International Federations and National Olympic Committees will be able to share best practices and discuss key issues at the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum, which will take place on 13-15 April. To find out more about the Forum and how you can participate, click here.

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