I fully support the athletes commission in opposing the paywall for access to the IFSC competition live stream. The paywall has implications for the competition organisers, athletes, sponsors and most importantly, the fans of the sport who tune in to watch IFSC competitions.
I started climbing at the age of 4, no one in my family climbed, they didn’t even know about the sport. I distinctly remember the first time I saw someone climbing. It was on the TV. It was 1996 and I was three years old. I sat there on my fathers knee totally entranced by the incredible Catherine Destivelle who seemed to be floating up a dramatic rock face in Mali to the sound of drums played by locals in the distance. Although I was very young this memory will be with me forever. My father and I would often watch the adventure sports channel, I liked to watch all sports but climbing was different, I wanted to try it for myself. I became obsessed from that very day. Catherine became a hero of mine and years later she came to speak at an event I organise, The Women’s Climbing Symposium, where we chatted about the development of the sport over the years.
Had that moment not been captured and shared on the TV I may not have found what has become my passion, my career and way of life. The routes by which people discover something new can be fleeting, incidental or shared. You don’t always know what you are looking for until you are given the opportunity to experience it, and that experience could be as simple as watching it online.
This past weekend the first Bouldering World Cup of the 2017 season took place in Meiringen, Switzerland. Just two days before the event the IFSC released the news that the live stream of the World Cup would be in partnership with Flo Sports at a cost of $20 a month or $150 a year.
The timing of the announcement was far from ideal for the athletes. We were all in final preparations and looking forward to the first competition of the season and we were certainly not expecting to become embroiled in a wider debate on access and participation of climbing literally hours before a competition. This is the reason why I have not yet spoken about my opinion on the matter. I made the decision to focus on the competition so I could later speak about the issue with a clear mind after a thorough thought process.
It was amazing to see the power of a united climbing community. In Meiringen it was impossible to find anyone who supported the announcement. Athletes, Event Organisers and fans were all shocked and then outraged by the decision. The response to this news really impressed me. Our community is strong. I am proud to be a climber.
So the paywall. What do I think? I disagree. Strongly. For many reasons.
A paywall does not improve access to the sport. Since I first started climbing, I have always been passionate about encouraging everyone to give it a go and for people in the sport to get the most of it. This one of the main reasons I helped start the Women’s Climbing Symposium. I also hope that throughout my time spent on the competition circuit, I have provided some inspiration to encourage people to try climbing and to push their own boundaries. A paywall is simply that, another wall to block people from seeing our sport. When it was announced that climbing would be included the 2020 Olympics, it was a firing gun for the climbing community to reach out and encourage people to participate in the sport. It was an opportunity for main stream media to explore and embrace our tiny world. Competition climbing was no longer a curiosity. Why would we now reduce the visibility of our sport?
A paywall is bad for athletes. If it was not for my sponsors, I could not have won the World Cup last season and I would struggle financially to attend all of the events on the World cup circuit. However, one element of my sponsors ongoing support is dependent upon the number of eyes watching me compete on the circuit. The paywall would immediately limit viewers from all but the most dedicated which would jeopardise sponsorship for all athletes looking to compete on the circuit.
As an athlete I understand the IFSC’s need to generate income. Nothing comes for free and we understand the IFSC needs to find ways to fund a high quality live-stream to improve reach of our competitions. However, other blogs such as this one from Liam Lonsdale sets out that a paywall is not the only option, and commercial opportunities can help improve access to the sport. The decisions are rarely easy but it is essential to find a solution to help our sport continue to grow and expand to all corners of the world.
The Athletes Commission strongly disagree with the IFSC on the matter and even asked athletes in Meiringen to refuse to be interviewed on the live stream a request I was happy to comply with. At no point were the athletes asked for their opinion on the paywall. I have not yet spoken to one person who knew about the partnership between the IFSC and FLOsports before the announcement went live. That includes the athletes, event organisers, National Federations, IFSC staff etc.
I am disappointed.
We now await the reformulated offer from the IFSC and FLOsports to determine what access to the livestream will be available. Hopefully, a decision will be made swiftly and well ahead of the next competition in Nanjing, China.
I hope that the decision will be to ensure live streaming off all IFSC competitions will remain free to view and the IFSC can negotiate a new way to generate income over the coming seasons.
Thank you so much to all of you who tuned in to the live stream this past weekend to support me and the other athletes. I love that you get to watch and be a part of we are doing. It means a lot to know so many people tune in to watch and cheer us on from all over the World! I really hope you get to watch the next competitions!