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Did Brazilian National Support Help Sweep The IDF 2016 World Cup Series?

*Warning, this posts talks about money, business, nationalism and skateboarding as a sport and skaters as athletes. Some of ya’ll might get triggered. You’ve been warned!

Over the past few months a lot of discussion has come over the 2020 Olympic opportunity for Skateboarding. While Downhill is not currently included, the question has been raised, how will it actually benefit Skateboarding or Skaters. With the close of the 2016 International Downhill Federation World Cup Series, there is a possibly an example of what this could mean for the future. Brazil has swept the Series podium with Max Ballesteros in third place, Thiago Gomes Lessa in second and second time winner Carlos Paixāo. These guys are incredibly deserving and have earned these titles over many years of dedication and against competitors from around the world. Congrats to all of them!

Unfortunately, winning in downhill doesn’t really pay the bills and these guys have also incurred great expense in chasing their passions. What if their country, Brazil, backed their efforts and rewarded them for winning, adding to their sponsorship and event prize purses? As the IDF the post indicates, it would seem some of these Brazilian riders are encouraged, if not supported in some way, by: “a very well structured support plan for riders, the “Bolsa de Atleta” (Athlete’s Purse) that gives top positioned athletes in any federated international sport a yearly prize, a reason to make them so competitive and dedicated”. [IDF post here]

From the Bolsa de Atleta [translated]: Bolsa Athlete is the largest individual sponsorship program of sportsmen on the planet. From 2005 to 2016, the program has invested more than R $ 897 million in the payment of benefits…

It’s no question Brazil has some of the most talented skaters, in street and downhill. Athletics in fact seems to ooze from the country, with talent abound in all its competitors in all kinds of sports. Lets put aside any arguments of ‘are skaters athletes’ and ‘is skateboarding a sport’ – there is money on the table and we’re all broke as all hell. So, what if downhill skaters were athletes, skateboarding was a sport and we were getting support from our national associations for competing and succeeding? I don’t mean to suggest Max, Thiago and Carlos are getting a lot of support, I don’t know what they get, but the idea that they could and should benefit definitely resonates with me. Anything helps really. I don’t mean to sound like skaters are beggars, but lets be honest, World Cup racing isn’t cheap, sponsorship is lacking and it’s hard to hold down a regular job traveling.

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Maryhill might as well be on the moon if you’re from Brazil and a broke skater. Jon Huey Photo.

From the Bolsa de Atleta [translated]: The target audience are athletes who get good performances in national and international competitions, from base to high performance. There are five categories: Base, Student, National, International and Olympic / Paralympic. The values ​​range between R $ 370 and R $ 3,100, and recipients receive the benefit for a period of one year. The money is deposited in a specific account of the athlete in the Caixa Economica Federal.

The exchange rate makes R $ 3,100 around $1000 USD – like I said, not a lot.

While America sits in it’s great Drumpf state, debating over emails and locker room talk, it is also the largest producer and consumer of skateboarding globally. Maybe Brazil rivals the USA in physical size and athletic prowess, but the GDP of the countries differ considerably and USA brands still bench mark ‘cool and quality’ to many people inside and outside the USA. GDP or Gross Domestic Product is one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country’s economy. It represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a specific time period; you can think of it as the size of the economy really. A quick look at the GDP of each nation and we can see that per Capita, per person, Brazil is around $10,000 vs the USA’s $50,000.

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Additionally, and the real number that hits me, is that 42% more Brazilians live below the poverty line.

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We saw some of this with the Olympics in Rio if you were watching. Personally, I was in Brazil a number of years ago and saw it for myself. The division of wealth and the living conditions of the bottom half are stark in contrast to the top. My point here is not to question how each government is doing or what it should do with it’s internal problems and policies, but merely to highlight how well-off the USA is vs Brazil, while they are comparable in size generally. So why is it that Brazil is helping it’s Downhill Athletes and America [and Canada] are not? Doesn’t the Donald want to be the best downhill skateboarding nation in the world? I mean, I’m sure he is the best there is, we would all be very impressed with the size of his board.

Brazil isn’t the only country supporting riders or sporting national associations and national championships. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I am not an expert on USA , but as I have researched it and Downhill Skateboarding currently doesn’t qualify you for much right now. There is no national body or national circuit. In Canada, it’s the same. While Canadians have a few options, there are lots of hoops to jump through and the value is low. The USA is the big cheese, so lets focus there.

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The olympics seem to be what matters most if you want money for skateboarding. The US Olympic Committee (USOC) only reported to put 10% of it’s Olympic Athlete budget to athletes as direct payouts, and that total is still $81 million dollars of athlete support over a 3 year period.

For Olympic athletes the USA is different than other countries: Unlike other countries, the United States doesn’t provide government funding to its Olympic committee. This agreement, set in 1978 as part of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, allowed the US Olympic Committee to hold exclusive control over the representation of American athletes and terms associated with the Olympics. As a result, the USOC is responsible for fundraising the amount of money needed to send athletes to the competition, maintain training facilities, secure sponsorships, and pay its staff.  

Feeling patriotic? You can donate to Team USA here!

The USOC provides funds to national governing bodies (NGBs) based on performance. So as a result, the rich get richer if they win. USA TODAY reported, “After the funding allocations are made, individual NGBs distribute the money based on performance and potential. Some NGBs, especially those with a lineup of corporate sponsors backing them, are able to provide athletes with more resources.”

So why is any of this important?

Well for one, downhill skateboarding as a whole is hurting for money right now. And without the skaters, there shrinking will continue. For US Olympics, without athletes there’s no Olympic team, no $5 billion in IOC revenue, no multi-million dollar TV contracts, no Team USA, and no Games. While I understand downhill skateboarding is not part of the coming 2020 deal, you can be pretty sure that it is in conversation for 2024. As we have already learned, the IDF is making effort to coordinate and collaborate with the approved, official partners of the IOC, currently the International Skateboard Federation.

The USA spent $800 million between 2009-2012 on Athlete support, training centres and direct payouts. EIGHT HUNDRED MILLION. With skateboarding now part of the Olympics, a chunk of that money may very well be for skateboarding and skateboarders now too. Still don’t want to be an athlete or in a sport? Some skater’s won’t, but if you’re a competitive downhill racer looking to chase points and be the WC champion [Aaron Hampshire was 4th and you know he’ll be back!], then my guess is even $1000 of direct green money is welcome and if they let use some of the $500 million dollars in facilities to improve your tuck, gear, endurance and etc, you might just go for it.

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Thiago and Max working for the dream. Photo and blog Luciano Lima.

Max, Thiago and Carlos trained for the WC series and earned their podiums as athletes. 100%. Those dudes have been dedicated as all hell for years of their life and more money than they probably care to count. If their country has been or will be supporting them, I think that’s incredible. Ultimately, every country, world-wide, is going to support skate athletes through this Olympic opportunity, if not the growth of the current IDF model. But why wait? Isn’t the IDF professional enough for Athletes to gain national support from organizations like USOC now? That’s really something you’re going to need to discover in your country on your own for now it seems.

Note: College athletes may be able to access funds for competing in IDF. More to come on that in another post.

If the IDF knows about Brazils Bolsa de Atleta, how are they helping to connect and collaborate or even help lobby for national sports associations to help provide approved gateways for skaters to access national funds and hunt for podiums. Is it even their responsibility? Ultimately, the IDF has been pretty hands off on “Organizing” much of anything but the IDF itself. That’s not a call-out, they do not organize races. But should they be helping organize or at the very least collaborate with national bodies that would recognize and approve athletes for financial support? For the time being, it’s up to the skater to support themselves by either doing it the same way they have with brand sponsorships and odd jobs, or seriously look at and work towards a new model collectively and at a national level. Supported mainly by revenue from television rights and corporate sponsorships, the USOC funds 1,500 winter and summer athletes currently and is adding 1000 more. Without developing national downhill organizations there will be no tapping into funding, support, facilities and exposure like USA Gymnastics ($2.7 million), U.S. Speedskating ($2.7 million) and USA Shooting ($2.4 million).

Brazil’s GDP is way below the USA and more than half it’s population is living at or below the poverty line. Skateboarding doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, but traveling to race around the world does. Straight up, it is my opinion that country-for-country Brazilians winning the WC are doing it from a disadvantaged position vs someone from the USA. What Brazil has is an understanding that international athletic competition raises the bar for the country and it’s people international – sports empowers people, literally saving lives. Skateboarding helps lift people up and bring happiness and health to their life where they might otherwise have little control of it. As humans, we need to play and are really good at it. Downhill skaters are lucky enough to have found a playful passion that has the potential to uplift their lives, maybe even pay them. But it is going to take a lot of work and it’s a long time horizon for getting payed back for all that sweat and money invested as well right now. Max, Thiago, and Carlos might not be making any money yet, but they are at least proving how powerful Brazilian skaters are and making it a national interest.

To wrap up, though there is no conclusion for now. The real reality of things is that North American racing is going to need to get organized and fast if it wants to have a future beyond outlaws, hopes and dreams. While we’re all very good at complaining about events and sponsorship support and etc, there is a very real opportunity to access funds by organizing nationally and building the opportunity for skaters to chase points and podiums internationally in perpetuity. If North American (you too Mexico) can get it’s shit together and form national downhill associations, tap into some public or at least donated funds to support it’s operation and quest for podiums, then we could see a strong return of racing in a very real way. Like it or not, the health of organized racing in the USA impacts the world. Brazil actually needs the IDF and the US competition for it’s government to recognize it’s skaters and support them. Leaving it to independent athletes and race organizers is not currently providing the best opportunity for racing. I see a clear opportunity for Downhill Skateboard racing, but there are too many people worried about the present and themselves, not the future or the collective of racing. In order for World Cup racing to continue and improve globally, there likely needs to be a new, better model in North America.

Congrats, Parabéns, to Max, Thiago and Carlos. You have held yourselves, your brands and Brazil at their highest! I hope you get what you earned from not only your country, but your sponsors. And I wish all of you the best in 2017!

UPDATE 10-19 – Top Brazlian racer for many years and advocate for professional Brazilian skateboarding, Douglas Dalua, was also able to place in the Top 5 this year despite having less of a showing in North America itself. Dalua [read his latest interview here], places in the Top 5 behind Aaron Hampshire, squeezing out Alex Charleson after 7 Curves, also winning the South American IDF rankings as a result. Parabéns Dalua!

UPDATE 10-19 – On speaking with Berry Plasman at the IDF, I think it is important to note: “The IDF provides documents stating the position [ranking] of the riders which they use as proof to get funding. We did this for several S-AM riders already.” So there you go, the IDF is supporting rider needs for gaining national recognition and support. Now it is up to riders (and events) to utilize this information for themselves as they can.

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