American Olympic gold medal-winning ski racer Ted Ligety has been a leading voice among athletes who oppose new ski dimension regulation changes set to be enforced by the sport’s international governing body, the International Ski Federation (FIS), next season. The following is a blog the reigning giant slalom World Champion and World Cup title holder posted on his website today (Nov. 20).
Tyranny of FIS
FIS’s tyranny has gone on long enough. It seems FIS is going out of their way to ruin the sport. FIS runs a dictatorship. They demand absolute control then try to butter their will in a fake cloak of benevolence. Athletes, SRS (Association of Ski Racing Suppliers and NGBs (national governing bodies) are completely impotent in their ability to create positive change in our sport or to stand against rules FIS imposes.
I feel like I might be beating a dead horse on this subject but it is paramount for the future of ski racing. The new rules imposed on ski regulations can’t go through in their current state. They will eventually ruin this sport. As most people already know FIS is imposing new ski regulations that turn back the clock on the evolution of this sport. Giant Slalom has been unfairly targeted. Current rules are >27 meters radius (more sidecut) and minimum length of 185cm, new rules will be >35 meters radius (straight skis from 80’s) and minimum of 195cm. (I currently race on 29-meter radius, 191cm in length skis.) FIS has put together a study that has recorded injuries from 2006-2011. A time frame for which did not allow for any correlations to build between injuries and eras in equipment. We’d need the same info dating back to the early 80’s to see any injury to equipment correlations, not the last 5 years. In FIS’s study they say 36 skiers were “severely” (out for 28 days or longer) injured in downhill, 9 in Super G, 16 in GS and 11 in slalom. They didn’t not take into account that GS is the most skied event, everyone from downhillers to slalom skiers train GS. There are probably 200 GS runs skied for a single downhill run skied and in races there are 2 runs in GS as opposed to one in downhill. Without even doing math it is obvious that the injuries per run in GS are far less then downhill. This begs the obvious question that goes unanswered; why was GS targeted?
On the World Cup it is pretty rare when the vast majority of the athletes agree on anything. The ski regulations, particularly in GS have brought together the athletes like never before 41 out of the top 50 men signed a petition against the rules and in Soelden 15 of the top 20 men in GS (Austrians didn’t come) met to discuss the rules. (It should be noted that only 2 racers have advocated for the rules; Hannes Reichelt and Benjamin Raich along with one Ski Company Amer Sports or also known as Atomic and Salomon.) In which we all opposed the imposed ski regulations and agreed that the ultimate goal was to eliminate FIS from equipment regulation. As athletes we have the greatest incentive to be safe and healthy. We all know how short our careers can be and very few of us are compensated for the risks we take. Therefore, we currently and in the future choose equipment that not only allows us the ability to be fast but to make it to the finish line safely. I have on many occasions chosen skis that were slower but had better control instead of faster and uncontrollable skis.
The equipment companies are highly incentivized to keep their athletes healthy as well. They have far more invested in us then FIS and NGBs so they want to protect us as their asset. FIS has shown that they don’t value athletes, as seen in this instance in their complete disregard for our input. FIS’s study was based around 2 on-snow sessions with several Europa Cup skiers. Suffice to say that is not nearly enough data to come up with such dramatic conclusions. With just those two tests and with no input from athletes or coaches they pushed the rule though so that there was no opportunity to debate the proposals. The athletes, SRS and the coaches protested and have since proposed a World Cup test where the top 15 athletes would test the new equipment on a World Cup slope but FIS denied this opportunity to evaluate their hypothesis. Proof that FIS has little confidence that their research will hold up under further testing. FIS’s only goal it seems is to look like they are being proactive safety wise though they won’t bare the brunt of the consequences when they don’t work. By making these rules they can say they tried and that may somehow elevate them of any liability.
FIS has already shown their incompetence in coming up with safer rules in the past. In 2007 they made a rule that made the skis wider which made the skis more aggressive which may have led to injuries by extending the lever arm thus putting more force on the knee. The new rules will make the sport more not less dangerous. Not only did FIS’s study say that there was no statistical difference in force between current skis and new skis but they didn’t measure the torque that will be needed to twist the ski around in a clean manner. Thus creating a larger force on one’s knee. The law of unintended consequences will kick in and most likely create more injuries. The latest generation of World Cup racers has never skied on straight skis so these new skis will be completely foreign (less controllable), making them/us get into awkward body positions and ski in a “jumpy” manner so that we can create enough force to turn them. We will also take a straighter line in which we will slide the top of the turn then hit the edge hard, creating a higher peak force (mostly centered around the bottom of the turn where force is highest already), while leaning back to get the radius needed, since the sidecut in the tip will not allow the ski to turn in a forward/centered body position.
Outside of the injuries this type of skiing will create by creating a higher sheering force on the knee (commonly associated with ACL tears), it will also cause greater fatigue, which is one of the leading injury causes. The ski industry has produced many studies tracking millions of skier visits over the last 30+ years in which they have found the advent of sidecut has drastically reduced injuries (mainly to the knee). I’m more inclined to believe a study that has tracked millions of skiers over 30+ years then a study in which testing was concluded in 2 days with less then 10 athletes. Injuries happen when the athletes are taken out of their comfort zone and we will not be in our comfort zone with these skis.
So how will this ruin the sport? The new skis will make skiing at the World Cup level less enjoyable to watch and perhaps more importantly far less enjoyable to participate in while making it more dangerous. Arcing clean turns is a joy everyone racing now days can enjoy. That feeling will be gone. First World Cup athletes will suffer this fate then in a couple years when the rules become FIS wide 15-year-old kids will have to turn in their “old” carving skis for long straight skis. This will give the big kids an even bigger advantage and will drive kids out of ski racing; into freesking or the copious amount of other sports kids have available to them. Another way it will ruin the sport is the economically side. Ski racing is to ski technology as Formula 1 is to car technology. This new rule will take that away from ski racing since anyone will be able to buy better skis in a store then we race on. Why would ski companies stay in racing if it were no longer driving technology and sales? Ski companies are the main financial supporters of this sport; the athletes make the majority of their income for their ski companies and
the amount equipment built for World Cup skiers is astronomical. If the athletes are no longer driving R&D and sales, the companies will eventually pull their support. Most athletes struggle to make a living at this sport already and without the support of the ski companies most won’t be able to afford to continue racing. And there goes the sport of ski racing.
FIS’s tyranny doesn’t just cover ski regulations but all sponsorships too, from the size of your headgear sponsor to the speed suit to the logo on your goggles. I am particularly concerned about the goggle logo issue for the obvious reason that I own a goggle/helmet company – Shred. FIS has long had a rule that the logo on the goggle strap could not be larger than 15 square centimeters. The rule has been ignored for just as long as it’s been around and for good reason, you can’t read a 15 square cm logo on someone traveling at speed and it was never enforced. This fall, out of the blue FIS decided they were going to enforce this rule, for seemingly no reason. Enforcement now is apparently, first a warning followed by not being allowed to start the race on the second offense. Most logos currently are 40-50 square centimeters. There is no point sponsoring a ski racer let alone start a company based around ski racing when one’s logo is too small to be noticeable. This hurts small companies like mine the most since it greatly takes away Shred’s ability to get valuable impressions to break through. Outside of this rule’s enforcement being a bad idea, it was not made known to companies early enough so they could put together the logistics to comply or what will likely happen in the future, decide their marketing budget is better spent else where. Which gets me to the greater point of FIS seemingly trying to drain the pockets of the athletes, since a large portion of athletes’ income is derived from helmet/goggle companies. I would think it would be in the sports, therefore FIS’s best interest to create value for not only FIS’s sponsors but also the sponsors that allow the athletes to compete at a high level.
Not only will FIS not listen to rejections from SRS and NGB’s on the ski regulations and logo issues as a show of complete power. It wants to fine athletes for speaking out against FIS. I was threatened several years ago for wearing a “FIS SUCKS” sticker on the back of my helmet. (I was 2 minutes late to a pre bid draw meeting and forced to start 45 while I was leading the standings hence the sticker.) I was told that a similar action would result in a 5,000 CHF fine. Most recently, word is that FIS is thinking about suing Jon Olsson for his choice comments he made on his blog about the ski regulations and posting “FIS SUCKS” logo on his site. At the most recent FIS meeting they discussed punishments for athletes speaking out against them. I quote an excerpt from that meeting, “The Council agreed to develop a “Code” to deal with cases of improper behavior that fall outside the competence of the competition jury to augment the existing rules, such as blasphemy on social networking sites or bringing the sport into disrepute.” Who would have thought that being a ski racer you lose your right to free speech.
One would think there would be some discourse to combat these atrocities but there is not at this point. Apparently Bill Marolt; the President of USSA and Vice President of FIS doesn’t even have the ability to bring these subjects up for discussion, let alone reversed or revised. The athletes to this point have had zero representation in the decisions FIS makes. When we hear of FIS’s decisions and we disagree we are ignored as shown in Soelden. Faceless committees make these decisions, and once the mandates are passed down their ego doesn’t allow them to admit wrong and reverse rules that are so obviously wrong. Unfortunately for alpine ski racing FIS monopolizes the sport so any and all changes will be hard fought or take FIS vastly rethinking their position in how the sport processes or more likely regresses. Perhaps it’s time to unionize the athletes or start an alternative tour. (An athlete union is now developing but it remains to be seen how effective it will be.) This should serve as warning for sports like freeride skiing and snowboarding, don’t let FIS monopolize your sport. FIS will bleed your sport dry of what has made it so cool.
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Images by Gepa