Canada’s Sean McColl, the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC)’s overall World Cup champion who also chairs its Athletes’ Commission, reveals how athletes are involved with the Federation’s preparations for its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

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.

Much of what Olympic participation means is new for our athletes, such as the increased media coverage and the long-term preparation, but also for our event organisers and host venues. It’s really fun, but it’s also really challenging, and 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 the athletes’ opinion 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 athletes.

Three into one
The IFSC is split into three disciplines – boulder, lead and speed – but the 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 give athletes 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 an athlete to get up at 6 a.m., do an event at 7.30 a.m. and then a second discipline later that morning. We consider issues such as when they’re going to eat, how they 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 now, and also two 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.

We had our most recent meeting at the end of April, and a lot of the outcomes were focused on adapting our World Cup circuit in preparation for 2020. 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 have 120 or 140.

Additionally, we don’t have an established circuit of the Olympic-style combined event, so 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 now 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.

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 the athletes 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; it’s a matter of communication, and it’s about giving athletes someone to talk to should they need it. You hope the bad things don’t happen, but it’s important to be prepared for it when they do.