Finland’s Finntastic Response To World Skate
The Finnish Skateboarding Association found a clever way to repel the roller derby junta’s invasion of their country’s skate scene.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) resolved the conflict between the International Skateboard Federation (ISF) and Rollersports regarding who would be skateboarding’s official international governing body by combining the two disparate organizations into one now known as World Skate. The compromise reached was that Olympic Skateboarding would be handled 50/50: ISF, the skateboarding contingent (comprised of core members of the skateboard industry and helmed by Woodward’s Gary Ream), would handle everything that involves skateboarding, from running the contests, to course design, to drawing up rules, etc., while the Rollersports people would handle the logistics and the “business” of Olympic Skateboarding. As I expected, that is not how things are playing out.
For one, World Skate is helmed by members of the former Rollersports organization, a group dedicated to roller skating and rollerblading. Skateboarding is merely one of many disciplines under the World Skate umbrella. While Skateboarding is governed by respected members of the skateboard community, it is still, ultimately, only a division of World Skate. The former Rollersports officials have shown both in attitude and action thus far that they very much intend to assert their dominance over their new Skateboarding division and milk it for all its worth because it’s the first time they’ve “owned” anything worthy of being called an Olympic sport.
As one anonymous source told me, “World Skate is the worst organization I’ve ever experienced. Coupled with arrogance and inexperience, they believe they are the best thing to happen to skateboarding contests, ever. Really, I think they think that.”
World Skate is, by all indications, doing everything wrong and making up the rules as they go along—mostly to benefit themselves and their other disciplines. For instance, I’ve been given to understand that at their Roller Games pageant in Barcelona in September, they held a meeting in which they introduced an addendum to their bylaws that stated (and I paraphrase) no new skateboarding National Governing Bodies (NGBs) will be recognized by World Skate. What they were essentially saying is: no new skateboarder-run federation in any country will be recognized by World Skate and any new NGBs will be created and installed only by World Skate. (USA Skateboarding, for instance, is the US NGB for skateboarding and a member of the US Olympic Committee. It is also a member of World Skate but is operated independently of World Skate.) It’s difficult to ascertain whether this bylaw was actually passed—World Skate is not very transparent or good at communication—but the fact that they even attempted to put themselves before skateboarders when it comes to skateboarding is very telling of their motives: they want everything skateboard-related to go through them from now on.
“They are so afraid of skateboarding, it’s sad,” my source said. “And with good reason. They have something they know they shouldn’t—it’s the only golden egg in their nest—and they’re trying to protect it.”
To clarify: we, Skateboarding, are now in a similar situation to what the snowboarders have had to endure under the International Ski Federation (ISF) which governs all ski-related disciplines such as cross country, ski jumping, Alpine, Nordic combined, etc. and, since 1998, snowboarding. Despite the bitter rivalry, the IOC put snowboarding under Skiing’s jurisdiction because it just seemed to make sense, but mostly because the stodgy old conservative IOC does not like change.
There is not, however, any logical existing Olympic federation to put Skateboarding in (the Cycling federation was considered at one point). But since Rollersports already had a relationship with the Olympics (they’ve been trying to get into the Olympics for decades), the IOC grudgingly agreed to create an entirely new federation dedicated to “rollersports” (a term made up by rollerbladers) called World Skate.
So World Skate was created as the Olympic federation for the newest Olympic sport, Skateboarding, except that World Skate’s “nest” of a dozen disciplines is comprised almost entirely of rollerblading/roller skating sports such as inline figure-skating, roller skate figure-skating, inline hockey, inline downhill, scooters, etc. most of which, you’ll notice, are fake versions of “real” sports—skateboarding, aka “sidewalk surfing,” included—making World Skate basically a purveyor of athletic analogs in the same way that tofu dogs, vegetarian burgers, and facon try to emulate actual meat.
And, again, Skateboarding is the only World Skate discipline that has acquired Olympic status.
The situation is, frankly, appalling and I’m astounded there isn’t more outrage. How are rollerbladers in charge of skateboarding? How is it that anyone other than skateboarders are making decisions about skateboarding? I don’t really care about the Olympic Skateboarding event—fine, whatever—but what bothers me, and should bother every skateboarder and especially the skateboard industry, is that skateboarding will not be benefitting from Olympic Skateboarding, but a small group of rollerbladers will.
Fortunately, there is hearty resistance mounting around the world. Finland, for instance, has, at least for now, found a way around working with World Skate. I recently spoke with my Finnish friend Samuli Heino, aka Hessu, about what’s going on in his country.
.“In 2016, when I heard what was happening with Olympic Skateboarding,” Hessu said, “I had a chat with our local skate federation and told them that they have to claim it. And by claiming it, I mean get Finland’s National Olympic Committee (FOC) to agree that they [the skaters] are the governing body in Finland for skateboarding before some old fart realizes that there is money to be made.”
Hessu then contacted his friends throughout Europe raising the alarm that they also needed to organize and protect themselves from Rollersports’ imminent invasion (World Skate had not yet been formed at the time), but everyone’s reply was essentially the same: “Ehhhh, fuck the Olympics, who cares, we’re skaters, blah, blah, blah.” Fast-forward two years, and some of Europe’s skateboarding federations are “in deep shit and the right people are not involved.”
Hessu, on the other hand, didn’t wait around for Rollersports to move in and he requested, and subsequently received, a letter from Finland’s National Olympic Committee stating in writing that it recognizes the Finnish Skateboard Association. (FSA) as their country’s skateboarding NGB. Much to the chagrin of Rollersports who, no doubt, would prefer the Finnish [Speed] Skating Association. to be the agency that oversees Finland’s Skateboarding NGB. Indeed, at the time of this writing, the World Skate website’s list of National Federations, under “Finland,” only displays the information for the [Speed] Skating Association.
[Note: the Finnish speed skating group is dedicated to real speed skating on actual ice, not tofu-rollerblade racing. However, they do have a “Roller Derby” division and that is presumably their connection with World Skate. But they’re primarily devoted to ice skating and they have said themselves that it would be both odd and inconvenient for them to add “Skateboarding” as well as the other dozen analog sports to their association.]
So while it was decided that the recognized skateboarding NGB in Finland will be run by actual skateboarders (hooray!), there was still one little problem: they didn’t have any money. Because the IOC and NBC Sports were in such a rush to get skateboarding into the Olympics RIGHT NOW ($$$), neither the Finnish Olympic Committee nor the Skateboard Association had the funds to compete, travel, etc.. And since Finland’s Skateboard Association chose not to cozy up with a bunch of corrupt rollerbladers, they couldn’t receive funding from them either. So Hessu developed, “Chasing The Spot” a project/entity that would both fund Finland’s Olympic Skateboarding team as well as document their journey to the Olympics. Hessu was able to fund it through a number of large corporate sponsors*.
“This was the only way I could think of where we could do things our own way,” Hessu explained. “We are on really good terms with the local Olympic Committee and, most importantly, we are not financially dependent on them. So Chasing The Spot enables the Finnish Skateboard Association to go and compete. Otherwise we couldn’t send anybody anywhere.”
It should also be noted that Hessu has done all this work pro-bono and simply for the future good of skateboarding.
“I would call myself the handyman, I guess?” he said when I asked him if he had a title. “I’m just helping out and trying to save my beloved wooden toy in Finland. I raised close to €200,000 for the team to travel, but I make no money from it. So either I’m an idiot or just a skateboarder.”
I would call Hessu a savior because every country needs a Hessu right now to save them from World Skate. But while Hessu may have scored a victory for Finland and skateboarding, Finland’s arrangement is temporary: World Skate only granted the FSA a “trial membership” that will be reviewed after the Tokyo Games. Trial? Because a group of rollerbladers need to assess whether Finland’s Skateboarding Association—which was established 40 years ago in 1979—is capable of managing their skateboard scene?
It’s World Skate that should be on trial. Hessu visited the Olympic qualifying contest in Rio (November) where World Skate also held a conference to discuss the upcoming challenges we all must face as we get closer to the Tokyo Games. Hessu was, in short, disappointed with what he saw/heard and his impressions of the conference are congruent with those of other attendees I’ve spoken with. It’s generally agreed that the conference, and the contest, was a complete shit show.
“[World Skate] likes to say, ‘We want to be one big happy family,’” Hessu said, “but what I really hear is, ‘Do as you’re told and be happy with what you get.’ For one thing, the Chairman Of The Skateboarding Commission is appointed by the President—it is not a vote. We have Gary Ream in that position right now, which is fine, but what happens when his time is over? Will we have some 60-year-old rollerblader telling us what to do? Because apparently skateboarding has no say in the matter.”
When Hessu said that, I thought, “No way? Really?” It seemed a little too unscrupulous even for the scoundrels at World Skate, but I fact-checked their “2019 Statutes” and sure enough it’s right there in Article 10.2.d.:
“The World Skate President … Appoints the Chairmen of the Technical Commissions and their members upon proposal of their Chairmen, heard the opinion of the Continental Area Presidents [sic].”
Gary Ream is currently the Chairman Of The Skateboard Technical Commission (i.e. the head of World Skate’s Skateboarding division). Not only will his replacement be appointed by the World Skate President (currently a 60-something, Italian rollerblader: Sabatino Aracu), but he can be replaced right now if the President so desires, as stated in Article 16.11:
“The President of World Skate, may withdraw his/her confidence from a Chairman or from one or more members of each International Technical Commission, and appoint a replacement until the next elective Congress is held.”
I like to imagine that Il Presidente will at least consult with experienced and qualified skateboarders when choosing our next Chairman (why does skateboarding need a Chairman again?), but, as the statute clearly states: he doesn’t have to. Think about that for a moment: the chairman, the person in charge of the international governing body of skateboarding, will not be selected by skateboarders.
Finland was my example here, but the issues they are facing are the same ones that any country where skateboarding exists will be dealing with. The cunning roller derby junta that runs World Skate has given every indication that they intend to have their fingers in the official governing body of skateboarding in every country in the world. And once installed, all government money dedicated to progressing “the sport” of skateboarding, and all national skateboard sponsorship money, will be funneled through their organization. That’s infuriating enough—especially to those who have dedicated their lives to skateboarding—but perhaps more troubling is the very real possibility that they will be recognized as the supreme authority on skateboarding in any country they infiltrate and thus be in a position to be making recommendations, consulting, or even drafting rules and regulations for everything from helmet laws, to skate park design, to what apparel/shoes skaters are allowed to wear during contests (more on the latter subject in another post). I understand that World Skate has recently hired a couple of actual skateboarders who are now on staff, but 99% of World Skate’s personnel have never set foot on a skateboard.
Nothing is going to happen before the Games in 2020, but, in my opinion, skateboarding and skateboarders across the world should thereafter begin boycotting all World Skate events until skateboarders are in full control of skateboarding. Not everyone is going to participate in a boycott (scabs), but if enough of the significant players withdrew their support from World Skate competition, it would diminish the quality of their events and cripple their Olympic business to the point where the IOC would be required to take action.
I’m not opposed to a governing body. Skateboarding should have a governing body(s) to deal with the bigger issues that befall skateboarding (like, say, when a group of rollerbladers proclaim themselves the governing body of skateboarding), but—and I know this sounds crazy—that governing body should be an autonomous organization comprised of respected skateboarders with the sole purpose of keeping skateboarding ungoverned. We organize to stay unorganized.
Let’s get skateboarding out of rollerblader hands because not only does World Skate not care about skateboarding, they’re in a position to do actual harm to everyday skateboarding. If you think they’re engaged in this hostile takeover of skateboarding for anything other than money, have a look at a couple of pages on their website:
- Their contact page begins normally enough with their Swiss mailing address, but that info is immediately followed by a list of three Swiss bank accounts along with their corresponding electronic deposit information.
- Then, on the about page, and after a rather oddly written history of Rollersports (where “skateboarding” is only mentioned once, in the last sentence no less), there again is that strange list of Swiss bank accounts and deposit information. Have you ever seen an ABOUT page with bank accounts on it before?
But seriously, what is World $kate really ABOUT?
* We would like to thank Gigantti, Marimekko, Finnkino, MTV, Tiketti, Suomen Skeittibetoni, ARE, FCG, and Canon for their generous contributions to skateboarding.
Read Carnie’s previous Olympic story on Transworld: here