Op-Ed: Reframing Winter Sport for a new audience

19 May 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

With less than 12 months to go until Beijing 2022 - and even less until the next Summer Games in Tokyo - Vicky Gosling, CEO, GB Snowsport writes about how reframing snowsport can show a wider range of communities that the sport is relevant to them.

A year ago, COVID-19 closed doors and shuttered life across the country. What we couldn’t know then, but can’t avoid now, is the way that it also opened eyes to the pernicious inequalities that exist within and between communities the length and breadth of the country.

For many of us in sport, this was a wake-up call we desperately needed. Just as we saw new barriers emerge for millions of people as the access to sport that we’d taken for granted was whisked away, we were also being served with the starkest of reminders that, for far too many people, routes into sport simply weren’t accessible to them in the first place. 

That wake-up call hit home for me in a very real way. For GB Snowsport, so much of our focus has been on the preparations and the build-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing next year, but as our athletes and support teams were forced to head home it became clearer and clearer to me that the impact we have here, on our own shores, is just as important as the responsibility we have when representing the nation overseas.

At this moment in time, sports such as ours simply do not have the option to set aside their social responsibilities. Our fans, our athletes and our communities expect us to show that we are doing more than delivering success. It’s what I expect of us too – our crowning achievements may come on the slopes of Europe, America and Asia, but our impact takes place in the hearts and minds of people who find freedom, happiness and inspiration in what we do. 

And so, as the days of the first lockdown turned into weeks, we began to think seriously about how to boost our impact here at home. For thousands of people, recreational and grassroots snowsport is brilliantly covered by the three Home Nations Governing Bodies in England, Scotland and Wales. But for too many communities, the idea of taking part in snowsport seems more pipe dream than half pipe run. 

It was from that realisation that the seeds of Project Balance began to germinate; an opportunity to take our sport to a community of young people without easy access to our traditional facilities, and to reframe it in a way that speaks to their interests, and builds meaningful connections with our athletes, generously funded by the British Ski and Snowboard National Foundation. Moreover, an opportunity to capitalise on the real technical links between our winter sports and one of the most exciting Summer Olympic sports in skateboarding. 

Those links aren’t merely superficial: the number of elite level snowboarders who are highly competent skateboarders is remarkable. And that, really, is the defining reason that we believe Project Balance will work. It is based in a genuine, authentic connection between two sports that are both preparing for an incredibly exciting 12 months, in Tokyo and later in Beijing. Hopefully it’s also about showing that sports can collaborate and coordinate at every level. In community engagement, in pathway development, and perhaps even in elite competition.

Most importantly, they – we – can coordinate in one of the biggest challenges this country faces; building back from the impacts of covid in a way that ensures no community is forgotten, left behind, or considered too hard to reach. With less than a year to go until Beijing 2022, it’s time for us to show that we can focus two ways; with eyes on the Games, and the same focus on supporting our communities here at home.