by Daniel Fedkenheuer
In the midst of a Winter Olympics where half of NBC’s viewership delight in the ways in which they have painted gold-medal winner, Shaun White, as an American hero and the other half scold the “lone wolf” for selfishly abandoning the snowboarding’s core culture, many of us in the skateboarding community sit passively by.
For better or worse, White’s name in headlines surrounding the upcoming games is simply adds another mystery to the sporadic collection of media describing how the process to skateboarding’s eventual Olympic fate is shaping up. As some anxiously wait to see how this process unfolds, others are actively working with Olympic committees and national governing bodies of sport in their home countries to keep the wheels in motion. Allow us to explain.
Home to some of the most talented up-and-coming urban scenes, devoted independent publishers and exceptionally desirable spots, there are few greater examples of a country with potential to capitalize on the potential social and economic benefits of the Olympics than across the pond, in England. As such, we got a chance to interview James Hope-Gill, CEO of Skateboard England, in an effort to demystify some of the reservations and hesitations surrounding skateboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics.
This non-profit that Hope-Gill and his cast of industry veterans are behind aims to, in their own words, “manage, support, develop and promote skateboarding in England & Wales, increase participation, develop a coaching and judging pathway, create and support a sustainable and robust competition structure at all levels in conjunction with existing competitions and stimulate international interest in English & Welsh skateboarding through the development of world-class facilities and skaters.” Without further ado, we encourage you to keep an open mind and have a look at what Hope-Gill had to say:
From my understanding, the way an English skateboarder can hope to compete in the Olympics is to be invited to the National Championships, win in the disciplines of either street or park, move on to and win the European Championships and then go on to the Olympics from there. Is that the case or am I missing something?
JAMES: There is still some uncertainty regarding qualification due to skateboarding being a new sport without an established series of “open” competitions at the elite level sanctioned by the World Governing Body. However, we do know that the Qualification system will be based on World Skateboarding Ranking. Skaters will be ranked for competing in World Skate sanctioned events in the Olympic qualifying period between 1st January 2019 and 30 June 2020.
Details on ranking and the qualification system will be disclosed in March 2018 but our understanding is that skateboarders will be able to qualify through their National Championships in order to be invited to enter the Continental Championships and then go onto World Championships.
Ranking points will be obtained through a mixture of the existing commercial events, such as Vans Pro-Series and Street League, in addition to events that are to be created, such as National Championships and Continental & World Championships. That said, its hypothetical at the moment, until we get clarification from World Skate later this year.
Are there any specifics you could give us on how skateboarding will be structured in the Olympics? (ex. Are street and park the only two disciplines? How many representatives can be expected from each country? etc.)
It has been confirmed that there will be two skateboarding disciplines contested in TOKYO 2020: Street and Park.
A total of 80 skaters will compete in 4 skateboarding events as follows:
- 20 athletes female Street
- 20 athletes male Street
- 20 athletes female Park
- 20 athletes male Park
We do know that there will be a minimum of one skateboarder per continent who will be guaranteed a spot for each event in the Olympics and a minimum of one spot each event will be guaranteed for the host nation, Japan. There is also an understanding that in each event, each country will be restricted to a maximum number of skateboarders. That figure is likely to be 2 or 3 per country per discipline. Again, we need to wait until March 2018 for clarification.
Can you explain the concept of membership a bit more clearly? Do skaters who want to compete have to sign on to be members of Skateboard England in order to do so?
Membership is vital in ensuring that Skateboard England can continue to help and support the skateboarding community and also positively contribute to the growth of the sport. Interest in skateboarding has never been stronger and we are fully committed to helping everyone achieve their full potential whilst ensuring that decisions made about skateboarding are skateboarder led. At the moment Skateboard England is pretty much a voluntary organisation which means that things take a lot longer than we would want them to and we can’t do as much as we want to. A lot of what we have been doing is behind the scenes, such as lobbying government and other organisations regarding funding, strategy and politics.
We are in the process of creating a number of membership categories for skateboarders, coaches, skate parks, etc. We are putting together a package of benefits for members, but that’s a long process and will take time; but there are some significant things we have put together already.
Membership is also part of a much bigger picture. If we want to receive public funding (for better and more facilities, growing skateboarding, etc) from Sport England (the central government sport funding agency) we need to have a series of membership categories. Membership demonstrates that the sport is supporting the governing body and is actively saying “we want to grow, get better facilities and be more sustainable”, it is also part of the democratic process and status of the governing body. We are a membership organisation and all decisions made for the good of skateboarding need to be representative of skateboarders. The Board of Directors are elected from the membership and so we need a diverse and thriving membership in order to have really good people with the right skills making the strategic decisions that will affect the direction and growth of the sport.
By joining Skateboard England as members, people & organisations will be actively supporting all the work we do, helping us to invest in the development of skateboarding across England & Wales, basically supporting the future of skateboarding from grassroots to elite level.
There has only been a governing body in England and Wales for the last couple of years. This isn’t the case for many other countries, especially in Europe. We are about 20 years behind a lot of European countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, etc, etc. They have thriving memberships, and are taken much more seriously by their governments and local authorities. Those countries mentioned are already receiving government funding for facilities and their Olympic teams. They have been having conversations with funders for a number of years, whereas we are very new to the negotiating table. Membership in those countries is accepted by skateboarders as the norm. We hope that we will get to that position in due course, but understand that it is a new concept in the UK.
There will be no compulsion to become a member of Skateboard England. However, in order to take part in our events, we would expect skateboarders to be a member. We would also hope that skateboarders would want to become members in order to support the work we are doing in creating opportunities, getting better facilities and making sure that decisions about the sport are being made by skateboarders.
Based off the memo on sponsorship that you posted to LinkedIn, what sorts of companies are you anticipating to support the National Championship events?
We’re really keen to engage with companies who are from the skateboarding industry and those from outside. Let me explain. There are a limited number of skateboarding companies and many at the moment already sponsor events and jams around the country. What we don’t want to do is to dilute that money so that the wider skateboarding community sees a reduction in the sponsorship its receiving at the moment. That’s the reason we are looking outside the industry. That said, we hope there will be skateboarding companies who increase their sponsorship budget in order to get involved in the National Championships which will give them some fantastic profile across the wider community due to the events being covered across BBC Sport digital platforms.
In terms of the types of companies; we need to see who is interested. However, we very much want to retain the look and feel of skateboarding events and ensure that a company who gets involved absolutely agrees with the ethos and aims of what we are trying to achieve.
One of the most pressing issues that skateboarders considered to be in the industry’s “core” demographic are concerned about with regard to the Olympics is representation. Many think the Olympics will water down the rawness and the outlaw mentality that they have come to pride themselves on. How will organizations like Skateboard England try to maintain some of the authenticity that makes skateboarding what it is, while still attempting to take skateboarding to a new level?
Well, we certainly can’t speak on behalf of other organisations, but the main thing Skateboard England is here to do is facilitate. We are not here to try and change what is already happening and what is already great about skateboarding. We just exist to provide guidance and a bit of structure where needed….and to help increase the participation of what we do and love and give us a voice.
We want to help promote grassroots events that are already happening and support the community to keep doing what they’re doing. In a world where red tape is growing, if a local authority insists groups need to have insurance to run events & jams, we can support the skateboarders with this. Likewise, with parents now seeking out skate lessons and coaches. We can help support our skateboarders with qualifications & training and therefore help provide employment opportunities.
Skateboard England is also there to work with and lobby against any Councils that try to ban / limit skateboarding in City Centre areas. Street skating is most important to us and preserving it is a huge priority. We hope to support the development of shared space like other European nations have done so well. We are working with Local Authorities like Nottingham, Sheffield and Hull for Skateboarding to create new skateable spaces and events.
What sort of potential do you see skateboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics having for the skateboarding culture as a whole?
The Olympics seems to have certainly divided the skateboarding community. However, I would hope that we can all agree that the Olympics brings an opportunity to increase the profile of skateboarding. If we take advantage of that, we should see more funding into the sport which will create more opportunities for skaters, more skaters and more & better facilities. However, we need to be setting the foundations and preparing for that growth right now.