Climbing is in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the British competitions scene is vibrant, and here BMC CEO Dave Turnbull explains the BMC’s position and what it all means for climbing as a whole.
The UK has a history of competition success going back to late 1980s when Jerry Moffatt and Simon Nadin won major international events, the latter winning the first ever climbing world championship. The BMC has been closely involved with competitions since that time and today they’re an integral part of the climbing scene with a large and passionate following. Competition climbers have had Olympic aspirations for many years, and it’s been the IFSC’s number one objective since it was set up as the world body for competition climbing in 2007. Today we have strength in depth in the GB Climbing Team, a world class group of paraclimbers and our very own double World Champion in bouldering – Shauna Coxsey.
Most people start climbing indoors these days and the Olympics will very likely encourage even more people to try climbing. That’s great news for climbing walls of course and the BMC’s job is to connect with new climbers, to help them become part of our community. This means supporting their needs and the transition to outdoor climbing by promoting safety and skills training, awareness of access and environmental matters, and an appreciation of British climbing history and ethics. Historically some climbers were concerned competitions might spill into the outdoors and damage the crags but in reality this hasn’t materialised.
The BMC’s role
The BMC is both the representative body for climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers and the formal national governing body for the competition climbing. These functions have co-existed since the 1980s and it remains to be seen how Olympic status might change this. In 2009 the BMC consulted members on whether to formally support the IFSC’s campaign to get climbing into the Olympics and after much debate, there was a strong consensus and decision in favour of supporting Olympic recognition. More recently the BMC has produced a position paper on climbing and the Olympics and set up a Working Group (reporting mid/late summer) chaired by Rab Carrington to review the way competition climbing is managed by the BMC.
Olympic status demands high standards of governance and our staff and volunteers have been working hard to put the necessary procedures and documentation in place – team selection criteria, anti-doping regulations, talent development systems, child safeguarding measures and more. The BMC has around four full-time staff equivalents (some funded by Sport England) who work on competitions and talent programmes. Compared with other sports these staff are thinly spread, and we’re heavily dependent on a team of dedicated volunteers to run our busy schedule of regional and national competition events.
The Olympic Effect
The IOC’s announcement that the Tokyo 2020 event would be a combination of lead, bouldering and speed climbing was controversial amongst climbers at the time, but I suspect it will work well from a media perspective and may bolster the case for long-term Olympic inclusion. We’ve already seen some new money come into the sport and this is likely to grow in the future, particularly if climbing gets into Paris 2024, a reasonable prospect given the popularity of climbing in France. Since 2017 UK Sport has awarded £630,000 to support identified medal prospects and a further £192,000 from its Aspiration Fund for other high potential climbers.
Political and economic uncertainty has created a difficult sponsorship climate of late with even some of the biggest sports struggling to attract high value partners. The BMC has engaged a sponsorship agency (Rocket Sports) since 2018 and they remain upbeat about the prospect of securing a major corporate partner. Clif Bar came on board earlier this year supporting competitions and the GB Climbing Team as a trial so we’ll see where that leads in 2020. It will help once the Tokyo qualification process is complete and we know for sure whether British climbers will be on the flight to Tokyo.
Indoor climbing has seen enormous growth since the early days of competitions and the media attention generated by the Olympics will almost certainly give it a further lift. For climbers this should ultimately mean bigger and better climbing walls, sector diversification and more choice. Climbing wall operators are likely to see an influx of newcomers keen to try out climbing but also the threat of out-of-sector facility providers setting their sights on climbing. Whether all this will have any discernible effect on the numbers climbing outdoors, or the well-being of the crag environment remains to be seen. Whilst honeypot sites in the Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Wales and elsewhere have been popular for decades, anecdotal evidence suggests many of our crags have been falling into disuse and – despite the overall increase in people climbing – now see less traffic than 20-30 years ago.
A thriving indoor climbing sector, boosted by Olympic recognition will generate a fresh crop of climbers, some of whom will move outdoors. Down the line these people will become the new custodians of our climbing heritage and will take the sport to new levels. The BMC’s job is to embrace the change, welcome newcomers and support our competition climbers as best we can while ensuring those moving outdoors have the skills, awareness and knowledge to climb in a safe and environmentally sustainable way.
GB Climbing is supported by the BMC and Mountaineering Scotland.
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