Getting Organised: a Sport Climbing Victoria proposal – an open letter from Philip Goebel, president of Sport Climbing Victoria.
With access issues in the Grampians front in mind within the Victorian climbing community, important questions have arisen about the governance of our sport and the community organisations with claims to represent climbers in Victoria. In fact, the access issues have highlighted our weakness in Victoria to get organised and present a coherent and unified voice to Grampians National Park stakeholders, in particular the Victorian Government. In order to satisfy Parks Victoria that we as a community can adequately self-manage our impact in a considered and sustainable manner, we need to demonstrate our ability to set up robust governing bodies that can bring together all viewpoints in the climbing community to create effective policies that grassroots members of the climbing community can take ownership of and live by at the crag, and encourage fellow climbers to do so as well.
The hasty formation of the Australian Climbers Association Victoria (ACAV) should prompt us as a collective climbing community, to pause and reflect on the best path forward. While supportive of the ACAV aims, without consulting existing community climbing organisations I am critical of its self-declared ‘pre-eminent representative body for access’ status. The question that we need to address now is – what is going to be the most effective way to achieve our access goals? Shall we fragment into many small organisations or should we evolve our existing climbing organisations to better serve our growing community.
Currently, Sport Climbing Victoria (SCV) is the only government recognised State Sporting Association (SSA) for climbing in Victoria. SCV has been working to support the Grampians Access Working Group’s (GAWG) efforts in order to ensure government discussions have continuity and are consistent and coherent. We have been doing so by informing the GAWG about all discussions with Sport & Recreation Victoria where access issues in the Grampians have been raised, advocating that climbers should be consulted about parks management planning. This includes representation from the GAWG during these consultations and echoing the points of concern that the GAWG has already raised with Parks Victoria. The biggest potential risk with new organisations interacting with Parks Victoria and claiming pre-eminent status is that this creates confusion and give Parks Victoria an excuse to consult no climbing organisation since they can legitimately claim they don’t know who to talk to.
SCV has never claimed jurisdiction or representation of all climbers and all climbing activity in Victoria because of the historic organisations that have existed for much longer than the SCV, such as the Victorian Climbing Club (VCC). Until now, SCV has been building governance capability over competition climbing and climbing on artificial structures. However, being the only climbing SSA in the state has naturally led government to approach us on several climbing matters, including the recent developments with climbing in the Grampians. SCV’s current awkward position as being the only climbing SSA but not claiming, nor having the capacity to claim jurisdiction over all climbing governance demonstrates that the status quo needs changing.
While there is a need to be putting out fires now – reacting to Parks Victoria respectfully and putting forward solutions – we can’t only be reactive. We need to start a discussion about a way forward for organising as a community so that we are not in this situation again. Instead of fragmenting into many climbing organisations, I believe, unifying our community climbing organisations into an overarching organisation with many branches of activity is the best way forward. Examples where this has been successful are the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) or the German equivalent – the Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV). Both of these organisations have demonstrated their ability to advocate on behalf of their entire climbing community, leveraging the power of a broad and more numerous membership and being effective in winning important access battles.
Why should we do this and how might it operate; let me put forward some ideas.
Why build a unified climbing federation in Victoria?
- A single unified organisational voice will better amplify our individual voices as legitimate and respectful parks users who should be invited and consulted when parks management plans are made and changed.
- Having many small climbing organisations, typically volunteer run, duplicates administrative work such as maintaining membership databases and processing membership fees. We could easily decrease this mundane work that keeps us away from the crags by consolidating.
- It’s confusing for our non-climbing stakeholders when there are many climbing organisations. They do not (and shouldn’t have to) understand the intricacies of the different climbing disciplines. How many of your non-climber friends have asked whether Alex Honnold will be winning the gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
- A federation has potential to be more financially sustainable. With some moderate scale, small club affiliation fees can start to go a long way. This can help to pay for access work meaning that we could increase the professionalism of how our community is represented to government and make sure our stakeholders are backed by the right amount of resources.
- Other matters which affect the whole climbing community such as safety standards, implementing best practice and environmental impact issues can more easily be addressed in a consolidated way.
How would a hypothetical climbing federation in Victoria operate?
- The crux will be agreeing on the overall goals and purpose of an overarching climbing organisation. Climbers should want to join a unified climbing body in Victoria because there is a shared vision for the sport regardless if you clip bolts, place gear or throw down pads to boulder. We should all agree on this purpose and vision even if there may be disagreement about the methods and tactics about how to get there.
- We could loosely base ourselves organisationally on the BMC by creating many branches of activity with elected committees on an activity and regional basis, where for example Sport Climbing Victoria would be one committee looking after comp climbing. The elected chairs of these committees could then form a central Board of Directors with additional directors elected directly from membership if we so desired.
- We should nurture a culture of robust, healthy and friendly debate internally, where we can argue vehemently with one another on topics we are passionate about but still go the crag or pub afterwards and enjoy one another’s company – acknowledging that robust respectful debate will hopefully lead to the best decisions.
- It’s good for democratic organisations to have contested elections and so we shouldn’t be shy about running against our climbing partners for leadership positions. It means that people who are serious about contributing will flow into leadership positions and get stuff done but can also be held accountable since other willing and able people will be willing to contest for those positions.
- While internal debate may rage on about the best method to achieve our goals, we would present a clear unified message externally which would demonstrate our competence in self-regulating ourselves as a user of parks in our fragile environment.
- We would create a climbing environment in Victoria where doing the right thing for the environment and for considering other parks users would be easy to understand and easy to do, such as supporting sustainability and impact minimisation efforts.
Right now there is an opportunity to build a climbing federation of this nature for the first time in Australia showing leadership that other states can model and then build towards a national organisation. The acute Grampians access issues can be converted into an opportunity to strengthen the climbing community and communicate to all Australians the amazing contributions that climbing has already made to Australian sporting culture as it will surely continue to do in the future.
SCV has been actively reaching out to all the various community climbing organisations in Victoria about moving forward with building a climbing federation that unifies all climbing organisations in Victoria. The VCC as well as other community organisations such as Alpenverein Melbourne are supportive of the idea of moving towards creating a federation of climbing organisations. While the important details of the structure of the federation have not been decided we have made the most important first step – collectively identifying that this is needed. The next step SCV is proposing is the creation of a Founding Council made up of representatives of all the community climbing organisations to begin drafting founding documents and then hosting a round of public forums where we can discuss and debate how we organise to build a better, sustainable climbing future where our access rights and privileges are protected. It won’t happen overnight but to build the solid foundation we need to move forward we should make sure all voices are welcomed and considered.
You can support these efforts by joining any or all community climbing organisations and asking how you can help and if you agree that a united climbing community is what you want – let the leadership of those organisations know.
President of Sport Climbing Victoria