If you don’t want to read this wall of text below – just watch this video. It sums everything I am about to say pretty nicely.
The other day, David Wise – the best halfpipe skier in the world, and someone, despite our wildly different worldviews I think of as an all around great guy – posted a great text about this same subject. I have been meaning to write something about it for a while, so I figured I’d give you my view on it too. If you like sports, get ready to get upset. Here we go.
I very rarely watch sports on TV. As a matter of fact, very few subjects are less interesting to me than sports. No, sports end up somewhere in between opera concerts, and reality shows about Americans catching fish with their hands. This is impossible, you might say. Jacob, you are a pro skier, you do sports for a living! You must love sports! Well, I beg to differ. See, the problem I have with sports (where do I even begin), is the standardization of everything from dress codes to venues, the rules and regulations governing everything around what athletes are allowed to say, do, stand for, or wear, and most of all, the ridiculous patriotism it promotes and perpetuates. Why should I care if 20-something highly paid athletes that happen to be citizens of the same country as me, or represent the same town I grew up in, happen to be the best at kicking a ball into a net every two years? I have never understood this phenomenon, and I don’t think I ever will. To me, it’s the same kind of mechanism that wars are started over, or that creates racism, the “us vs. them” mentality. I completely understand if one gets a thrill out of, say, playing soccer, just to stick with the example. It’s great exercise, it’s a way to bond with your friends, and it’s always fun to win something, but to watch it on TV, and root for “my” team? No rationale will ever explain it to me in a way that makes sense.
With that said, I’ll continue to my area of expertise, freestyle skiing. One of the main reasons I’ve been opposed to the Olympic movement, and FIS gaining more and more control of our sport, is the above stated patriotism it ultimately leads to. Suddenly, individual athletes represent nations, not themselves, and when they get financial support from their countries they can’t be expected to truly express themselves without censorship. I made my mark on the contest circuit back when no one competed for their country, we were a big group of friends from all over the world, traveling and partying together, and we saw each other as individuals, not parts of national teams, with little flags neatly sewn to our chests and team coaches watching our every move. Sure, you always made sure not to do something too outrageous that might slander your sponsors, but the ceiling was very high, after all, we were action sports athletes and were in a way expected to act somewhat rebellious at times. Those days are over, at least for anyone on a national team.
Earlier this fall, the world cup schedule presented by the FIS showed a huge double booking at the end of January. The circuit’s most prestigious event, with the most media exposure, the World Championships, seemed to clash with the X-Games, the biggest contest in the world of action sports. Since I knew I wasn’t to compete in either, I didn’t pay it much attention and shrugged it off, thinking to myself that it would probably change as soon as FIS figured out that no one in their right mind would turn down an X-Games invitation, which usually gets sent out to the very best skiers in the industry. Obviously, the Federation didn’t have the same thoughts. Months passed, and the events were still clashing on the schedule. Now, with both events underway, and the top 16 halfpipe and slopestyle skiers in the world on location in Aspen, I can’t help but think that the massively pompous FIS officials must be scratching their heads just a little bit. Did the World Championships suddenly become a second-grade contest? The millions of dollars plowed into this project must certainly seem a bit wasted now that the world’s best athletes aren’t there? Isn’t that what the World Champs is all about? On Swedish national TV, I saw a short sports report about the upcoming week where the anchor curiously asked the reporter why none of Sweden’s top names were on location in Austria. The channel had, after all, made two big show specials on both Henrik Harlaut and Jesper Tjäder earlier the same week, and they are showing the World Champs live on TV, not the X-Games, which is only streamed on their online service. It makes me wonder if maybe even the media wasn’t prepared for the decision of all the top athletes to go to Aspen instead? Either way, the fact that they didn’t turn down the X-Games, makes me seriously proud of our scene, and it shows that action sports will always attract the special ones, the ones that refuse to sell out to traditional values and follow their own paths. I’m going to be watching the webcasts, and I’m not going to be rooting for my country, but for my friends. Good luck everyone, and fuck FIS!