ifsc climbing

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Over the past year, we’ve seen a plethora of articles exploring climbing ethics, the rise of climbing’s popularity, our sport’s involvement in the Olympics, and how these various elements ought to be approached.

Some people wholeheartedly support the changes we’re seeing, others only want them with specific conditions, while another group flat out opposes the slightest deviation from the status quo.

And in the heap of all of this exploration into the future of our sport, the IFSC’s recent decision to require payment to view all live streams of World Cups presents yet another controversial change for at least one segment of the climbing community.

First of all, what is the IFSC?

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) is an international non-governmental non-profit organization that hosts climbing World Cups around the globe in lead climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing. They also lobby for Olympic representation, advocate for anti-doping, education, and promote the practice of good sportsmanship.

Their main objectives are

the direction, regulation, promotion, development and furtherance of climbing competitions around the world.

So, what did the IFSC do?

On Wednesday, April 5, the IFSC announced a three-year partnership agreement with an online streaming partner, FloSports, which will entail the use of their platform FloClimbing; a subscription-based online service.

In the official press release, the IFSC claimed that:

“This partnership with FloSports will allow the IFSC to invest more resources than ever before into Sport Climbing. This will result in a more viable economic environment for the events, host countries and athletes. This new deal will also allow the IFSC to create more content, high quality production and more in depth coverage than ever before. This will allow the IFSC to reach a broader audience.”

Their new counterparts are FloSports say:

“There has never been a more exciting time in sport climbing than right now. The best climbers on earth compete throughout the Climbing World Cup season and we look forward to working with the IFSC to bring fans more in -depth event and athlete coverage than ever before.”

What fees are involved and what do they include?

In order to watch the IFSC’s live competitions/recorded footage, you must register with FloClimbing and pay $20/month or purchase a one-year subscription ($150) which comes out to $12.50/month. If you plan to watch all 16 events spanning over eight months, the $150 option would save you ten bucks.

This fee covers “archived and live footage.” This suggests that the footage from the next three years will only be able to be viewed with a membership as the IFSC website comments:

“During the weekend, archived footage from the competition will be stored in a video library for FloPRO subscribers to watch for the duration of their subscription.”

They are also only advertising the broadcasting of the Semi-Final and Final rounds, suggesting that there will be no coverage of qualifiers. The fee also covers “original documentaries, a technique video library and a skills workshops.”

Community reaction

Gauging from reactions online, the climbing community is slightly outraged. For elite athletes considering boycotting the Olympics due to its combined medal format, this is yet another blow.

Adam Ondra posted:

This came with a barrage of online outrage on the comments section of the IFSC’s announcement and a petition on Change.Org to reverse the decision.

Photo: Change.org

The statement that seems to routinely pop up in these arguments is

Where is our sport going?

What I would like to do is to observe both sides of this argument.

A case for community outrage

Let’s get angry … I understand the feeling.

I’m a passionate proponent of upholding climbing ethics; the aim to protect the sanctity and roots of rock climbing. I strongly believe in Leave No Trace, refuse to blare loud tunes at the crag, and trad climb anything I can.

I also happen to love competitions and have partaken in most that my state has to offer. In my mind, they’re not just a competition, but rather a festival; a place for climbers to come together, share stories, their beta, and celebrate sends.

But, even in this realm, things on the micro level are changing.

Two signatures from fellow climbers use to mean you did the problem. Other than finals, this honesty-based structure was followed at the nearly two dozen competitions I’ve done. Everyone trusted and respected the word of everyone else at the competition. The most recent gym to open near me had judges, lines, and rigid rules that isolated every competitor.

What do such changes suggest about the direction we’re headed?

I treasure the concept of adventure in climbing; of doing something fringe that others don’t understand. In other words, being a part of a tribe.

Now, as a result of the IFSC’s recent decision, I have to pay $150 to watch fellow members of that tribe shred some gnar. It feels fake, sell out-ish, and oppressive to the long-standing community that has always supported the sport. The fringe nature of our sport is diminishing and unless you can afford it, a component of our tribe is being broken down.

A case for a prosperous future

Now to the other side …

Our sport is growing. Thousands are flocking to gyms, we are heading to the Olympics, and crags are more packed than I have ever seen.

More and more people are falling in love with climbing.

That is great. That means more people in our tribe, more public land advocates, and more Leave No Trace supporters—because when you become part of this community, those aspects naturally take more of a precedence.

The IFSC has always broadcasted these competitions for free and I wonder what that cost has been. I wonder if sponsors footed the whole bill. I wonder if this will make climbing more accessible or better.

They were providing a free service before. Who am I to demand that it continues to be free?

Perhaps this will enable the organization to help support re-bolting efforts, host more competitions, and invest in bigger and better competitions. Maybe—just maybe—this money will actually result in big improvements that benefit us all.

And after all, much of the reason we have all-star athletes who can compete at these levels at all is in part thanks to athletes who “sold out” to Coco-Cola, Jeep, Clif Bar, and random other sponsors that enable them to focus on climbing. And this isn’t anything new; even the Stone Masters had huge commercials, books, tours etc. that helped them perpetuate their lifestyle.

So, with that in mind: where do we draw the lines?

I understand the anger, I understand the confusion—and hell—I am frustrated, too. But, I feel it is a disservice to not at least consider why or how they made these decisions, especially as some of the largest proponents of our global tribe.

Part of climbing is the community, and part of being a community is processing why someone made a decision and not simply disparaging them.

Will you be paying to watch it?

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