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With Formation of World Skate, Skateboarding May Have Set Aside Infighting En Route to the Olympics

12 Jul, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

When we last checked in with skateboarding, the newly minted Olympic sport, the scene was one of disarray.

The heart of the issue was infighting over who should be governing body, leading to a lawsuit brought by one of those potential governing bodies (the World Skateboard Federation or WSF) against another (the International Skateboarding Federation, or ISF) , claiming the WSF had been sidelined by the ISF and International Olympic Committee (IOC), despite investing money and resources into preparations. (Additional controversy: The suit also claimed the ISF could not meet IOC anti-doping standards and had cancelled recent drug testing programs due to fears athletes would test positive for banned drugs.)

In addition, plenty of skateboarders opposed Olympic inclusion because they thought it would destroy the counter-culture vibe the sport has come to embody, and that rules including uniforms, helmets and more would reduce competitions to artistic performances, not unlike that of figure skating.

The announcement that the International Federation of Roller Sports (FIRS, which also governs roller figure skating, inline skating, roller derby and more) added even more fuel to the fire.

For the present, though, the sport seems to be trying to find its way forward. According to an article in Inside The Games, FIRS and ISF are set to merge and will be known as World Skate. Approval for the proposed merger is expected to take place at the FIRS Congress in September.

The two organizations say the merger will help to provide a more modern platform for the management of all skate disciplines. They also claim the decision will also allow autonomy for the governance, development and management of skateboarding through a commission chaired by Gary Ream, the current ISF President. Ream, an American entrepreneur and skate camp organizer, previously had been viewed as a controversial figure when it came to organizing the sport.

Skateboarding was added to the 2020 Olympic program last August, along with baseball and softball, karate, sport climbing and surfing. A total of 40 athletes are expected to take part in men and women's street and park skateboarding events in Tokyo. The IOC’s hope, in including skateboarding, is to recruit a younger demographic among Olympic viewership – something that has been falling off over the years.

Originally, FIRS was selected to be skateboarding’s world governing body because neither the ISF nor the WSF were recognized by the IOC.  At the time, Ream was appointed head of a FIRS Commission governing the sport – leading to the lawsuit.

The proposed merger appears an attempt to settle the issue.  Ream says the merger will help skateboarding make the most of its Olympic debut.

"We have worked hard to make sure that the inclusion of skateboarding in the Olympics respects and celebrates the culture skateboarders have built over the past 70 years," he told Inside The Games. "Upon the successful integration of the ISF into FIRS as World Skate we will be in best position to not only put on an incredible show in Tokyo, but also to protect the history of and seize the Olympic opportunity to properly maximize the development of skateboarding around the globe."

But don't think the World Skateboard Federation is going to ride off into the sunset without a fight. Tim McFerran, who heads up WSF, has forecast dire consequences if the merger is to take place. McFerran recently noted, "Skateboarding has been duped and skateboarders are not happy." He predicts a deep schism within the sport prior to the Olympics.

The inclusion of new sports overall has not been without its challenges. In addition to skateboarding’s problems, surfing had to overcome its own divisiveness in order to gain acceptance under the IOC umbrella. And long before that, it was snowboarding that had a tug-of-war with the IOC over issues such as helmets, uniforms, judging and the like, prior to settling down and becoming a medal sport.

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