August 24, 2018
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Olympic saga: ICF, ISA respond to “selfish parents” debate…

Action from the ISA Worlds in Denmark last year (credit: ISA)

I recently posted an opinion piece titled “The ‘ICF / ISA’ Olympic saga has become a propaganda war, and the real loser is the sport.

The post stirred up plenty of debate as it spoke to a growing sense of frustration from the paddling community that the two federations care more about political games than the actual sport. “Selfish parents going through a bitter divorce” was the analogy.

In the end, the question didn’t seem to be “ICF or ISA” but rather: Do we need an international federation at all? And should we even bother chasing the Olympics in the first place? Is all this political BS really worth it?

SUP always has and probably always will be self-governing, so why do we even need an international governing body? Unless we desperately want to be in the Olympics (and neither federation has made the case why that would be such an amazing thing), then I don’t think we need either the ICF or ISA at this point.

But regardless of your take on the matter, it’s only fair to hear from the federations themselves. So immediately after posting the story, I shared it with the higher-ups in both federations and invited them to respond to the community.

Here’s what we got back.

Take a quick read, and feel free to share your thoughts on Facebook once you’re done. Does this change anything? Or is it more of the same?


Response from the ICF

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) were quick to respond, with an official ICF spokesperson sharing this reply that seems to genuinely cut through the politics and get straight to the core points: (1) that the federations are tired of this saga as well, and (2) the ICF would be happy to split the Olympic governance with the ISA.

But exactly how a joint-governance would work is a whole ‘nother debate (I foresee messiness). It may never get there anyway: The ISA has made it very clear (both privately and publicly) that they have no desire for compromise, which is of course their right (and rather understandable given the ISA was active in the sport far earlier than the ICF).

So the matter will now likely end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) early next year, which means that a significant part of the sport’s future will be decided by lawyers behind closed doors in Switzerland.

Hi Chris,

Firstly congratulations on a very fair article. The ICF obviously accepts its share of the blame for the way this dispute has blown out of control, and we feel incredible disappointment in the way the situation has become even more bitter in recent times, culminating in the ISA’s use of court action to block what we believed was set to be a wonderful SUP World Championships, for all the reasons you have stated.

Your criticisms are fair, but hand on our heart we only ever wanted to put on a good show in Portugal to show the SUP community the ICF could run a well organised, enjoyable event across all ages and with decent prizemoney. The fact we can no longer do this is a great disappointment to all involved.

We too, Chris, have grown tired of the ongoing legal arguments. We are fully aware the only people who are being hurt by this is the SUP community. Both the ICF and the ISA have deep pockets, and I am sure we could continue fighting this through the courts for another five years at least.

At the ICF we certainly do not want that. As far as we are concerned, enough is enough. Which is why this week we have again raised the compromise of ISA being given total control over SUP on the ocean, and the ICF look after SUP on flatwater and inland waterways.

Even though I think we, the ICF, could easily argue we have more experience dealing with ocean canoeing than ISA has with inland surfing, in an attempt to bring this dispute to an end, the ICF would strongly consider sharing responsibilities. I’m not sure the ISA has any plans for SUP racing on rivers and lakes, but the ICF has been doing these types of events through their National Federations for some time.

Not sure what you think of this idea. We could, of course, bow out altogether, but we believe we have a lot to offer SUP. And we honestly believe, despite everything that has happened, that we can form a strong partnership with ISA which would be very beneficial to the sport overall.

Thanks for your time Chris. Please feel free to contact me if you need any more info etc.



Response from the ISA

The International Surfing Association (ISA), which SUP Racer supported since day one until becoming somewhat disillusioned with its political games over the past 12 months, was a little slower to respond but came back with this excellent reply from their Vice-President and resident Viking, Casper Steinfath, last week. I would have posted it sooner but there was the small matter of The Gorge event on the weekend, which perhaps reminded us just how far removed both federations are from the actual sport.

Firstly, it was hugely refreshing to hear an official position from Casper, who’s been too quiet in this debate and has generally left the talking up to the far-less-informed ISA President and Executive Director. So already it’s a positive.

But just like the ICF reply, it’s a little too heavy on “I have a dream” and a little too light on specific details.

Reading between the lines, it seems the ISA wants to put the onus on the “so called community” to do the communicating, which comes across as odd given the fact that the ISA was a little late to the game (this sport is now at least 10 years old; the ISA has only been involved a little over half of that).

Casper does make a solid point about “Who are ‘we’?” This is a question that needs defining, however this lack of definition shouldn’t be an excuse for the ISA to have such poor communication. But whether the community itself is organised or not (and it is becoming more organised these days), it’s clearly far more engaged with actively developing the sport than the distant federation that claims credit for all that development.

I see the community as the commanders and soldiers on the front lines, while the federations are generals sitting in war rooms far removed from any beach or river.

There is one bright point in Casper’s message in the suggestion of a dedicated SUP committee, something that’s desperately needed and long overdue within the ISA, however that raises several new questions: who would be involved, how much autonomy would it have, and who would actually listen to its recommendations? Because while it’s a good idea in theory (and hopefully comes to reality), it still doesn’t address the core issue of why the ISA has zero connection with 99% of stand up paddle events.

There’s also the small matter of this SUP commission being promised by the ISA as far back as Mexico 2015, which makes you wonder why it’s taken three and a half years and a provocative blog post to get things moving.

In the end, this seems like a very idealistic message but is essentially just more of the same: more talk, more promises, no real action.

But I don’t wish to over-analyse: Here’s Casper’s statement in full. Whether you agree with him or not, it’s clear there are very few athletes as passionate about and committed to the sport as the humble viking.

Casper has a big following within the sport and has gone to great lengths to give it outside exposure (he seems to be a regular on Danish TV these days). The young man is a huge asset to the ISA (many of us would have completely given up on the Surfing Association long ago if not for his involvement), so hopefully this heartfelt “Vision of the Future” turns into more concrete action and less political games from the other ISA executives.

A Vision of the Future for SUP by Casper Steinfath

Thank you SUP Racer for giving us the opportunity to respond to your editorial. We appreciate everything you do and have done for SUP.

As an athlete, a professional, a member of an active national federation, and as vice president of the ISA, I would like to weigh in on this debate and offer my personal perspective, but also that of ISA.

I agree with you in believing it is more important than ever to look forward at what can and should be done to improve our sport. Like Chase Kosterlitz says very well in his comment on your post, we need more people involved and I can only see it as an awesome thing if the so-called Community would step up and engage with the federation.

As one valuable step forward, I have proposed, with the full support of my colleagues in the ISA Executive Committee, to create a SUP committee comprised of athletes, industry, organizers and other stakeholders to oversee the technical aspects of SUP within the ISA, but also to help formulate a more specific future ISA SUP strategy. This includes the possibility of additional, dedicated staff resources for SUP.

I know the ISA leadership welcomes the input and reflective thoughts of yours and any other “Elders” that have been involved in the sport from the early years. In its nearly decade-long commitment to SUP, through the organization of World Championships, but also in fostering the growth and development of SUP at a national level through its member federations, ISA has always been open to change and constructive criticism. But let’s be clear: Can the ISA do better? Absolutely, but we need to work united across all sectors to further elevate and grow our sport

As a full-time competitor and professional athlete, I have a dream where paddlers from around the world are celebrated and appreciated for their talents and skills – just like any other mainstream sport. Like many of my fellow athletes, I work hard to make a living in this sport and I truly believe that we can reach the next level.

And one way this will be possible will be for SUP to reach the greatest sporting stage – the Olympic Games. Like any athlete aspiring to excellence, I want that opportunity to compete with the best in front of a truly global audience.

There is no doubt in my mind that SUP at the Olympics will gain the media attention to a very high level.

In this regard, I think it’s important for the SUP Community to understand some of the ICF’s recent actions that have cost important opportunities for paddlers to participate at a world level. The ISA was on a clear path to have SUP included in the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires (to be held in October 2018) and SUP had already been included in the inaugural World Beach Games under the ISA’s leadership, when unfortunately, the ICF chose to express its opposition to the ISA’s governance.

Fortunately, we can look forward to the 2019 Pan American Games, where the ISA successfully achieved the inclusion of SUP racing and SUP surfing in this major, regional games which is a huge opportunity for the paddlers for the Americas.

I am certain that, eventually, with the same persistence and determination that led the ISA to achieve surfing’s inclusion in the Olympic Games, we will also prevail for SUP.

I would also like to challenge the notion of the “We” you refer to in your editorial. Who are “We”? Are we the thousands of recreational paddlers scattered around in many different countries? Are we just the elite racers that compose this so-called core? Or are we the people that SUP on the rivers which lead to the sea? I know the ISA hopes and aspires to represent all of the above, from the grassroots to the elite level, with the ultimate prize being Olympic gold.

I personally am open to the idea that the ISA may be out of touch with the core community, but at least the ISA has made the effort and created a competitive pathway at the world level, including its partnership with the APP Tour which represents an important investment in our sport’s future.

It is indeed unfortunate that the legal issues have created a distraction for what’s really important for the sport. For me, and I know this is the case for the ISA, this has never been about us or about the politics. As surfers and paddlers, we are a single family working together for the athletes and the sport first. This has always been our mission.

As passionate Stand Up Paddlers, we are all creating this sport together and we have a responsibility to do what’s right and fair in our hearts. The ISA is far from perfect, but I know from experience that its heart is in the right place – and that’s where SUP belongs; with people who believe in us and support us for who we are. These are the people that I want to work with for our sport’s better future.

No doubt, there is much more to be done and I personally look forward to working with you and all our other stakeholders to take our sport to the next level!

– Casper


What do you think? Does this change anything or is it more of the same?

We’d love to hear your take on it all: leave your comments on the original Facebook thread if you want to share your opinion…