Thursday, February 12, 1998
Snowboarders feel singled out
Could the International Olympic Committee have a broader agenda in the case against Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati?
And is it possible that Rebagliati was merely caught in the crossfire of a three-party fight between two skiing bodies and the IOC?
Several people within the small snowboarding community figure the original disqualification of the snowboarding gold medallist may be a loud message the IOC is sending to snowboarding: We want you as an Olympic sport, but we don't want you in your current state.
And we want you under our jurisdiction only.
The easy pawn in the game was Rebagliati. He was dumb enough to get caught for as little as they caught him with. But he fit into this petty game perfectly for the IOC's pre-conceived notions.
You see, snowboarding is a mess of a sport which is just organizing itself. And at the Olympics, it is being accepted under the auspices of the FIS, the world governing body for skiing. However, most of the snowboarders compete under the banner of the International Snowboarders Federation.
In order to get into the Olympics, the snowboarders had to switch federations. The ISF has been almost free of rules. Its competitors are the stars and everything goes. In the jargon of this sport, they rule.
Under the FIS and the IOC, there are all kinds of new rules to be adhered to. The message many are interpreting at these Games is: Both the FIS and the IOC are telling snowboarding, 'It's time to play by our rules or you won't play at all.'
"The IOC invited us to the party and now they're slapping us in the face," said Mark Fawcett, who was the best known Canadian snowboarder until Saturday night.
"I believe the IOC is pointing a finger at us and discriminating against our sport. There are so many ifs and maybes in this story, even in the information before the IOC and how it came out, what was banned and what wasn't. The inconsistencies in the rules are everywhere. And I think it all comes back to the ISF and FIS, that's what I honestly believe."
Said Anita Schwaller of Switzerland: "We didn't even want to be here. They (the IOC) wanted us. Now, I believe they're trying to change the rules as we go along."
There is almost universal disgust among snowboarders over the manner in which the Rebagliati story has been played out. They question the process. They question the information they were provided with by the international bodies. Many of them question why they even came to Japan.
"We didn't come here to have our sport embarrassed like this," Schwaller said. "I think a lot of us feel like something is very wrong here."
One of the Canadians participating in the halfpipe event last night was 20-year-old Mike Michalchuk of Calgary. Yesterday, in clear defiance of the IOC, he held up a sign: "Ross is the champion. Give the gold back."
Michalchuk, as with all the Canadian snowboarders, was completely supportive of Rebagliati. Michalchuk corroborated his teammate's original story that second-hand marijuana smoke caused the problem. Michalchuk went on to say that if you live within the ski community of Whistler, B.C. -- whether you indulge in marijuana smoking or not -- you can't help but be exposed to it if you are a social person in any way.
The Canadian team discussed the possibility of boycotting last night's halfpipe event, but in the end the athletes concluded each competitor would make his own decision. In the end, all competed, but to a person, all remained supportive of Regabliati. Even with the halfpipe men's and women's events about to start, the focus as much on the disqualification as it was on the event.
"I don't smoke marijuana and I never have smoked marijuana," Tana Teigen of Calgary said after her first run. "But I support Ross and I'll continue to support Ross."
At issue here is not just the politics of the sport, but the voting procedure which saw him originally banished. The vote at the level of the IOC medical commission was 13-12. In court, they'd call that a hung jury. Here, before the appeal, it was a verdict of guilt. Then there was the 3-2 (two abstentions) vote by the executive committee. Again, a hung jury.
"There are other issues at play here, believe me," Anita Schwaller said. "They're using him as an example. That's wrong. This whole thing is wrong."
Steve Simmons can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com