When the Nissan Freeride World Tour announced last month that it was dropping female athletes from its professional big mountain competitions, it didn’t go over very well, as we reported earlier. So, the tour has released a third schedule revision for the 2011 season. Earlier this week, after discussions with the female athletes and tour sponsors, the FWT organization announced they will reinstate women on three of the six stops of the pro tour.
The women will now compete at the Chamonix, France, Kirkwood, CA, and Verbier Switzerland events. In addition there will still be four qualifying events for the women’s Verbier contest that will have some prize money—$60,000 of the $250,000 plus prize purse money will be allotted to the women’s ski and snowboard podiums.
While an improvement from the schedule (of a series of little to no money qualifier events) presented to the women last month, the tour is not what it was before. “It’s not the best, ” said one female athlete. “We didn’t get everything we wanted; but it is a compromise between everyone.”
Interestingly, in addition to the backlash from the athletes, the decision to remove the women was apparently made without consulting the major sponsors of the tour. Even Nissan, the title sponsor of the tour, claims to have been in the dark. “We clearly said to [FWT management] that we were not happy of that proposal…they didn’t involve the sponsors and in particular Nissan as Title of 5 stops, they just informed us on the decision taken,” said Elena Caluri, events marketing manager for Nissan-Europe.”
It is curious that the FWT seemed surprised the outside world found the move negative, and also that they did not hold a dialogue with involved parties before attempting to drop the women. Scott Sports, which sponsors the tour—as well as a number of the male and female athletes—made the following statement, “As a tour sponsor, Scott Sports had no control or influence on the recent format change affecting the women,” according to Marco Roesti, marketing manager for Scott in Europe.
Skier Jess McMillan
FWT management is sticking by its original explanation, although the logic remains somewhat hard to follow. Spokeswoman Joesphine As said regarding the changes, “We did not 'change' our position which is that women have to get their own tour in order to, 1. Make the show without being in the shadow of men 2. Open the field to younger riders 3. Get the communication they diserve.”
When few outside of the FWT management supported the changes as a positive step for the women, they were forced to again revise the schedule. “After discussions with female riders they came to common the conclusion regarding the format. The goal is to make the sport evolve and in the future have a completely separated women's tour [sic]," said As.
Which sounds like a forward thinking sentiment-let’s just hope the FWT remembers in the future that demotion to a lower-level qualifier tour is not exactly the best way to support the women and evolve the sport. Now, we can sit back and watch the women rip on the tour, at least half the time, which is progress—sort of.