Dutch climber Jorg Verhoeven recently penned a short Facebook post on the issues surrounding the upcoming European Bouldering Championships in Munich this August. His concerns - mirrored by many other athletes - revolved around the fact that the Munich round of the IFSC Boulder World Cup was effectively 'doubling up' as a European Championship event, bringing with it the associated problems of having separate qualifying groups. Following consultation with the Athletes' Commission and the IFSC, some changes have been made. Jorg sent us the following article to explain.
While competition climbing has made a huge leap forward by entering the Olympics in 2020 – all arguments aside, it is a big step, even its opponents must admit - it was surprising that no organising country applied to host the 2017 European Championships in bouldering (ECHB). This of course wouldn't look great in the eyes of the Olympic Committee, but would also cause problems for National Federations to apply for funding, since no ECHB means no combined ranking (Lead, Speed and Bouldering), and with a combined Olympic format, there would be no way to select Olympic contenders.
This wasn't the first time that there was trouble finding an organiser: back in 2013 the problem was solved by hosting the ECH Lead and Speed together with the annual Chamonix World Cup. Nobody was especially happy with this solution – maybe only the winners, who could pride themselves on double titles – but it worked out and there were always bigger problems to worry about.
It therefore didn't come as a surprise when IFSC Europe announced that the WC in Munich on 18th/19th August will also serve as the ECHB. Quickly alarm bells were ringing, since what they hadn't thought about was the fact that bouldering qualifiers are arranged in two groups, which climb separate sets of boulders. These groups are weighted by world-ranking (to make them 'evenly' strong) and thus contain an uneven number of (non)European climbers. Hence it could happen that in Group A the best European wouldn't make it to semi-finals, while in Group B the 10th best European did. The climber from Group A would end up ranked behind the climber from Group B. We're comparing apples with oranges.
The Athletes' Commission discussed the issue and raised the topic to the IFSC and since no action was taken I reached out to the climbing community via social media. This is a delicate spot for the IFSC, especially after the fresh cyberstorm that was created by the proposed livestream paywall, and I was gently reminded that the internal route of complaint is the preferred one. I've been working in the Athletes' Commission for a year now, after being active from 2007 – 2011, and I've learned a lot about the IFSC. Some things work without kicking shins, some things won't. My call for a solution on social media had lots of responses, but most options involved messing around with the World Cup qualifiers, which of course isn't fair to the non-Europeans.
At about the same time the Austrian Federation came to the similar conclusion that an unfair event is not the way forward, and motioned for cancellation or postponement at an IFSC Europe meeting. A vote was cast by the National Federations, and was overwhelmingly won by the side voting against cancelling the event. Think about it: even though it was clearly explained that the ECHB would be an unfair event for their athletes, the National Federations voted against cancellation.
After more discussions within the Athletes' Commission, a solution was proposed to make the ECHB as fair as possible: those athletes that make it to the European top-10 in their groups, but do not qualify for WC semi-finals (top 20), will be allowed to compete in semi-finals immediately after the regular World Cup round. This round will decide the ECHB. A World Cup final will be held as usual, for which the extra athletes of course cannot qualify (since they didn't qualify for World Cup semi-finals).
This solution, which seems complicated, is actually easily practicable for the organiser, does not affect the World Cup at all and is quite a lot fairer to the athletes. IFSC Europe and the organiser readily agreed, and proposed it to the IFSC (yep, politics). Funnily enough, some resistance came their way, but at last the OK was given.
Everyone happy? Kind of: the Athletes' Commission made clear that this should be an interim solution, and that in the future more work needs to be done to find an organiser in the first place. Some voices in the IFSC keep saying that the Athletes' Commission's opinion is regarded as too important (athletes are just monkeys, right?). Finally, the commentator in Munich will need to explain to a confused public what the heck is going on in semi-finals.
Personally, I'm happy when an athlete's voice is not only heard, but actually listened to. Too many times this wasn't the case, and we either end up with disputable new rules (e.g. time cuts in lead) or with the IFSC learning the hard way (cyberstorms).