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Why Aren’t Alex Honnold—And Other Climbing Greats—In The Olympics?

A lot of the world's top climbers won't be in the Olympics, here's why.


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Spectators Think Climbers Are Failures. IFSC President Hopes to Change That


Longtime head of the IFSC, Marco Scolaris, has been busy. In addition to winning a re-election campaign in April (and thus extending his presidential tenure to 14 years), he traveled to the United States for back-to-back World Cups in Salt Lake City in May. Under his watch, the IFSC also recently released its 2020 Annual Report and announced a partnership with the not-for-profit International Testing Agency with a campaign #KeepingClimbingReal. And the biggest headline of all, climbing’s highly anticipated debut at the Olympics, is just days away…meaning that Scolaris’ hectic schedule won’t ease up anytime soon. But that also means now is the perfect time to dive into it all with him—the past he is indelibly woven into, the present crunch of plans and initiatives, and the uncharted future of the sport and its most prominent organization. 

BURGMAN: Congratulations on your recent re-election. What are some of the biggest evolutions you’ve seen at the IFSC in your time with the organization? 

SCOLARIS: I made a presentation before the election, and for that, I really started remembering what happened in 2007, and exactly May 2007—just a few months after the foundation of the IFSC. I went to Tibet and—I was a photographer, so I was taking pictures—I was in the front of Cho Oyu and I was thinking, ‘Well, now we are really sailing in the unknown and we are on our own as well.’ I remember at the foundation meeting a vote on the Olympic Games. I actually asked our members—57 federations, ‘Do you want the IFSC to move in the direction of the Olympic Games?’ It was a unanimous vote—well, actually it was not really unanimous; everybody voted except one federation and the federation delegate left the room because he didn’t want to vote. And I don’t want to mention the federation, but—it was basically a unanimous vote. At that moment, I had clear in mind that we wanted to grow the sport and to move in the direction of the Olympic Games, but [I was] uncertain we were really ready. We were just out of our mother federation, we were on our own, we needed to start again the process of getting IOC recognition, etc. But, like a child who grows and then becomes an adult and leaves the parents’ home, there is some uncertainty, there is some fear, but you feel proud that you are on your own. And that was my feeling at that moment. 

Of course, it was also difficult to foresee how we could achieve the goals because our resources were limited; we had very little money, our annual budget was less than 200,000 euros. And then we started building relationships, and that moment we had to create a credible calendar, a credible sport, and then to present the sport to the media and to the external world. The biggest achievement—well, we went together with the boom of the sport itself. In those years, the number of climbing gyms was already important, but what happened afterwards was unbelievable. In those years, we also tried to understand why the sport was growing so fast, so we made some research and basically with the help of some experts, we realized that climbing is one of the five basic motor skills. It’s something that we have inside—in other words, we can say that climbing is an instinct. If you put an obstacle in front of a kid, then he or she tries to climb it. And then, especially among the young generation, the attraction [to climbing] was really strong, and some investors understood. From the moment that climbers realized they wanted to build climbing gyms to train, it became a sport like others—a physical activity. With the additional value of this instinctual approach, it became huge. 

That ‘boom of the sport,’ right around the time of the IFSC’s formal formation coincided with a whole new—young—generation of climbers becoming superstars. I think they helped grow the sport through their fame as well, right?  

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