British snowboarders swearing – what’s all the fuss about?

Over the weekend snowboarding caused a bit of a stir in the halls at the snowsports equivalent of the FA, British Ski & Snowboard (BSS). Jamie Nicholls, who’s currently out training in Keystone Colorado with the rest of the GB Freestyle Team, was pissing about on a chairlift with Billy Morgan and posted this photo on twitter:

With the the caption:

Now to most people that would seem fairly inoffensive, a bit a light-hearted banter between mates who are clearly having a good time (#goodtimes being a bit of a giveaway). But it seems Jamie’s tweet got someone’s back up, because Paddy Mortimer, performance director at BSS, fired back a rebuke over twitter almost instantly:

He swiftly followed it up with:

This public dressing down of a massively popular rider caused an instant storm online, with several people including Ed Leigh weighing in in Jamie’s defence. Ian Ashmore of Dalikfodda, a mate of Nicholls’ and a well-respected shredder in his own right, penned an impassioned open letter on the BSS Facebook page calling out Paddy for “bullying online” and pointing out that the decision to berate Jamie on a public forum (or as he put it: “trying to tell him off publicly like some kind of deranged primary school teacher”) wasn’t perhaps the best idea.

Before we weigh in with our own opinions, it’s worth pointing out that BSS ain’t all bad. Unlike its much-criticised predecessor (Snowsports GB) it actually has snowboarders on its governing board. Since it was founded in 2010 (to fill the vacuum left by Snowsports GB’s ignominious collapse) it’s done a lot for snowboarding behind the scenes on an official level. Not least making it possible for Ben Kilner and Zoe Gillings to compete in 2010. Most of the folk we know at the organisation have the sport’s best interests at heart.

But none of that changes the fact that Paddy’s intervention seems to us to be totally over the top. The irony of course is that because of his reaction, the original “offensive” tweet has been seen by far more people than it would have been otherwise. He seems to have successfully manufactured a mountain out a molehill. But the incident also raises some important questions about snowboarding’s status as an “official” national sport.

Jamie Nicholls – not exactly a controversial figure… – Photo: Cyril Mueller

Leaving aside (for a second) the fact that the swear word in the tweet was starred out, and that Jamie is actually one of the most polite and mild-mannered professional snowboarders in the world today (he doesn’t drink booze, and told us recently he finds big events and adulation a “too hectic”) should members of a governing body ever have a right to dictate what language their athletes use? If snowboarders want to represent their country at the Olympic Games, are they going to have to sign a Faustian pact that means they can no longer behave as they normally would?

Even if you accept the assumption that snowboarders are athletes – and athletes are role-models who need to be aware of the impact of their behaviour – this seems to us to be taking things a bit far. It’s like the whole ridiculous furore about Kazu wearing his pants too low at the Vancouver games all over again. If Jamie Nicholls (who, let’s face it, ain’t exactly Kevin Backstrom) isn’t squeaky clean enough for official-dom, then who the hell is?

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