The IOC has officially approved the qualification process for all International Ski Federation events, including ski and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle, in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The qualification process was submitted to the IOC executive board for approval by top-level members of the FIS last week in South Korea, and it looks to be virtually identical to the one in place for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
This indicates the FIS executive committee chose to disregard the work of a joint task force that was established in May by members of FIS Snowboarding, FIS national associations, athletes, judges and the TTR to address the Olympic qualification processes for snowboarding. According to the official FIS Snowboard Freestyle task force timeline, the group had planned on submitting its recommendation for a new qualification system to the FIS council during the FIS fall meetings in October.
"While we believe FIS snowboarding staff had/have the best intentions," USSA program director and task force chairman Jeremy Forster said, "it also is the case that these (Olympic qualification) discussions are strictly between FIS/IOC directly and no input from sport committees or our group will be solicited."
Of the decision to submit its proposal to the IOC in August rather than October, FIS general secretary Sarah Lewis said, "There appears to be a misconception that one of the tasks [of the task force] was to advise the Snowboard Committee or even the IOC about the qualification systems for the Olympics, which is not the case."
The Olympic qualification process has been the center of a hot-button debate in the snowboard community ever since speculation over slopestyle's inclusion in the Olympics began. Among the issues is what many competitors believe to be an already-overcrowded competition calendar that promises to become unmanageable when mandatory Olympic-qualifier FIS contests will conflict with long-established snowboard events such as those in the TTR World Tour, Dew Tour and X Games.
It is crucial for the integrity of snowboarding that the FIS utilize the Task Force when deciding on a new Olympic Qualification process.--Chas Guldemond, quoted from the FIS Snowboarding Freestyle Task Force mission statement
In January, members of the TTR met with the FIS to discuss the possibility of coordinating event calendars, or even to have some TTR events count towards Olympic qualification. Both organizations, of course, have different ideas of what this sort of compromise would look like.
According to Lewis, the FIS position is that, "TTR events could be registered for inclusion on the FIS calendar to enable them to count for FIS points and thereby be part of the qualification process, if ... the event fulfills the FIS rules."
Lewis' main argument is that most high-level commercial snowboard contests are invitation-only, and that the most important criteria for an Olympic-qualifying contest is that it be "open to all riders and not limited to invited riders, which would not be in accordance with the activities of the Olympic Movement."
The other side is that the FIS international snowboard competition rule handbook is 144-pages long, and contains a monumentally detailed set of rules that are not all in place to fulfill a higher Olympic ideal, but rather come from the many years of experience FIS has running ski races. TTR event producers have decades of experience running snowboard contests; FIS only recently has started running slopestyle events. If a compromise is to be reached, it most likely will have to be done in this gray area of the FIS rule book.
Whether the FIS council, president and general secretary -- the people at FIS who are ultimately responsible for making all FIS decisions -- will honor the recommendations made by the FIS snowboard committee and freestyle snowboard task force in the future remains to be seen. For the moment, the Olympic qualification process looks like this:
The total number of snowboard slopestyle athletes at Sochi will be 30 men and 30 women; snowboard halfpipe will have 35 men and 30 women. How many athletes a country will be able to send to each event, up to a maximum of four, will be determined by how many athletes from each country are at the top of the FIS points list -- officially called the FIS Olympic quota allocation list -- at the end of the qualification period, which will run from July 2012 to January 19, 2014.
This means that for a country to send four people to an Olympic event, four athletes from that country have to be in the top 30 in FIS points. It also means that if an athlete from a country without a lot of top-ranking snowboarders wants to go to Sochi (for example, Seppe Smits, who almost single-handedly represents the professional snowboarding scene in the no-mountain country of Belgium, but also is good enough to make the Olympic slopestyle podium), he will have to earn his country a quota spot by finishing at the top of the quota list at the end of the qualifying period.
As of now, the only way to be ranked on the quota list is to compete on the FIS world tour and in the 2013 FIS world championships. What is left to be determined is if this list ranking can be opened to include events other than FIS World Cups, or if that stipulation is set in stone. If there is room for negotiation, it would then be up to the task force to convince the FIS council to include TTR events in the rankings, such as the Burton Global Open series, which are in accordance with the Olympic movement in that they are open to all competitors. Based on the actions of the top-level members of FIS up to this point, it remains to be seen if they would be amendable to such inclusions.