When I first heard about IFSC's decision to monetise livestreaming via the FloSports platform, I was seriously confused. I'd never heard of FloSports and after all the talk about the Olympics expanding climbing's reach, it felt like this was a big step backwards. Plenty of people were already sharing their disappointment on social media, but I felt like the message to IFSC would be stronger if we could get people to band together. So I started the petition. It's the first petition I've ever made and I wasn't expecting much. I knew that people like me would want to feel involved somehow.
It's amazing to see how many people have responded in such a short amount of time. There is so much love and passion in this sport. Even in our darkest hours, we show tremendous respect for one another. I'm reminded in times like these how lucky I am to be a climber.
I'm not sure what the petition will achieve. It's still early days and petitions can be hit and miss. I think the most important thing is to stimulate and foster debate. That's the great thing about climbing. We're an honest, open community. IFSC's decision to organise such an important deal behind doors, in my opinion, reflects their ongoing disengagement with the community they're supposed to work with and represent.
I do know that this will greatly effect IFSC's viewership. The main reason being that not everyone can afford the high fees. Climbing is finally beginning to reach the poorest countries in the world. It's just a matter of time before we're celebrating the first world champions from places like northern Africa or the Pacific Islands – it could be sooner than we think. It will be an incredible shame when some athletes' family and friends can't watch them compete, not even in replays. Competitions have now become less accessible to people around the world – not everyone can travel internationally to physically attend events or afford a costly recurring fee. IFSC has also been working hard to make sport climbing Olympic, which aims to "encourage the regular practice of sport by all people in society, regardless of sex, age, social background or economic status" (Olympic.org).
Even for those who can afford it, the question is "is it worth it?". It's been pointed out that IFSC's live-streaming track record is far from spotless. Event streams will often drop-out, loose audio sync or have one of the other millions of technical issues that come with livestreaming. We'll have to see if IFSC's partnership with FloSports changes any of this, but being the Head of Creative Development of a film production company and being a livestreaming specialist myself, I can confidently say that it's just not that simple.
This might make life harder for those of us who love to watch competitions, but it also effects the athletes who want to compete too. Sponsors often contribute financially for athletes to compete in the hope that their athlete will attract as many eyeballs as possible on the world stage. If viewership takes a titanic hit, sending athletes to comps will be hard for brands to justify.
I keep coming back to the same question: What could motivate IFSC to make such a decision? Maybe they're naive, but that's why research and open conversations exist. Maybe they thought it would be an easy way to make money, but profit is not what an organisation like that should focus on – not to mention it's just bad economics. Maybe they think this will draw more spectators to the physical venues, but they'll learn the hard way that it doesn't work like that.
We're living in an amazing time, where climbing as a sport is at a tipping point. The decisions we make today will define the sport for years to come. This announcement is purely a selfish one that does not benefit spectators, athletes, climbing brands or the climbing communities that make this sport unique and wonderful.
The petition means a lot to me because climbing has so much amazing potential. Few sports are so inclusive with such a warm, open community. I think IFSC could do a far better job of expanding the sport in a way that nurtures these strong values, instead of degrading them. I feel let down by the people that are meant to be representing us and I'm worried it could soon be too late if I don't try to act now, somehow.