Last weekend, the online UK snowboard community was figuratively set ablaze after new British Ski & Snowboard Performance Director Paddy Mortimer directed what was ultimately a rather misguided tweet at Jamie Nicholls – one of the UK’s brightest Olympic hopefuls, berating him for using a starred-out swearword in a light-hearted instagram aimed at teammate Billy Morgan. The UK snowboard scene were understandably frustrated and were quick to jump to Jamie’s defence. Check out our report for full details of the incident here.
When posting the original article, we directed a tweet to Paddy inviting him to give his opinion on the incident but unfortunately (and perhaps understandably thanks to the highly abrupt nature of Twitter) Paddy didn’t respond. However, apparently we weren’t the only ones that were keen to hear Paddy’s side of the story. Regular magazine contributor, former Whitelines editor, writer at ACM and respected UK snowboard commentator Matt Barr, managed to get in touch with Paddy to find out more about the reasoning behind his tweets.
Interview: Matt Barr
Source: ACM Writing
Were you surprised at the reaction your Tweet caused?
Yes I was.
Do you have any idea why people reacted so badly?
Well, yes. I do now, especially after speaking to Lesley McKenna and Colin Holden (BSS British Snowboard Director). I mean, I want to try and understand snowboarding, but clearly I got it very wrong in this case. I come from team sports, and obviously there are big cultural differences here. That’s why the BSS have brought me in as Performance Director in a way, because I wouldn’t come with previous baggage. And I have championed and been single-minded about championing snowboarding and freestyle skiing at the highest levels of UK Sport ever since.
Do you accept it was misjudged to communicate in this way?
Yes. I would agree that my actions were misjudged. That’s painfully obvious. I won’t be doing it again. I’m willing to admit my mistakes. After all, I’m asking athletes to admit mistakes so they can move forward and learn lessons. If I can’t do that as Performance Director, then how can I ask them to?
Can you explain the point you were trying to make?
Simply this – we have worked very hard – well, people like Hamish (McKnight, UK snowboarding coach), Lesley and Pat Sharples (UK ski coach) and all the athletes – have worked hard for a number of years to get to this position and to get this level of public funding. And I know the corporate nature of funding agencies, and I know they do not enjoy language like that. Personally, I can’t use language like this publicly because of the position I’m in. In a way, I act as the intermediary between the corporate world and the freesports world. That is a very difficult line to tread. I’m not perfect at it.
I think language like ‘the corporate nature of funding agencies’ is the kind of thing that gets snowboarders’ backs up. Who are these ‘funding agencies’, and why do wield such power?
They’re the people that pay their taxes. The middle classes, and they’re not comfortable with this unfortunately. UK sport money comes from the government, and that money comes from people paying their taxes. And once you’re awarded that money, you’re in the public eye. The Daily Mail, for example, will get hold of a story like this and write ‘We’re funding people like this to have a good lifestyle in the mountains’. They will pick up on this. It happens in all sports. And I don’t want us to be subjected to that. I mean, I get that snowboarding is different from other sports on a fundamental level. But unfortunately that’s not the way the mainstream sees it just yet. And we have to be aware of that.
Yet Jamie would seem to be the perfect role model. As Whitelines put it, ‘ If Jamie Nicholls isn’t squeaky clean enough for official-dom, then who the hell is?’
Yeah he’s a lovely young man. I can see he’s an absolute role model. But if that feed got into the wrong hands, then he’ll be portrayed as an oik. The mainstream media don’t deal in nuances. They deal in broad strokes. I know what this can do.
Like I say, I know there are people who think this has nothing to do with snowboarding and that we should walk away, but the fact is that there are some people that do want to compete, who want to go the Olympics. Like Jamie and Billy. There should be room for both sets of people in my view.
The other point is that, the more positively we represent this to the public, the more funding we can get. And that means more funding at a grass-roots level. More skateparks. More kids being encouraged by their parents to do these sports. That means kids off the streets. It’s all positive. You know, I’ve got two kids under ten. They don’t play football or rugby. They scoot. They skate. And there currently aren’t many facilities for them to do that safely.
So what do you have to deliver to get this funding? And how much have we been awarded?
Like I say, we’re under scrutiny here. We’ve been given £300,000, and there are certain things they’ll look for after Sochi when they come to decide how much money we get in the future. Most of the time, it is simple – did you win a medal? But in our case, we’re actually being judged on slightly different criteria. Have we got a good performance structure in place? Did we spend the cash well to help the athletes? And – this is the key – did we improve the skill level? Because we’ve made the case that judging us on medals won’t work for action sports. We need to take the time to support the riders to get them in a position where they can challenge, first and foremost. And then if we get into the finals – and, fingers crossed, even win something – our funding could double or treble for 2018. At the moment, bobsleigh get £2 or £3 million, and I’d rather that money went to our sports.
A lot of people made the point that Jamie’s progress to this point has little to do with BSS and everything to do with his long term commercial sponsors such as Nike and Red Bull. So if anything, he is answerable to them. Presumably that is a similar for all GB athletes. How do you try and balance these potentially conflicting responsibilities, especially in a sport like snowboarding, where there are two very different agendas at work?
Well, all athletes sign a UK Sport agreement when they accept the money, and part of that agreement is that they act in a very professional manner. These guidelines include social media, and part of that is that use of liberal language is frowned upon. I take your point about Jamie, but there are plenty of example of other riders who haven’t had anywhere near the level of commercial support that he has. Billy Morgan, for one. I think the public money Billy is receiving will help him to continue. Katie Summerhayes is another. I know from speaking to them and their parents that it’s difficult to find the money. So the money we can give Billy helps take the sting out of it a bit. And that should enable Billy to get more commercial opportunities, and then hopefully it starts to escalate. And we can help them in other ways as well, with media opportunities, which is also working. Billy and Jamie have been interviewed on 5 Live, they’re on the BBC Sport website. It’s starting to encroach upon the mainstream.
What’s the role of a Performance Director? How will you help Jamie, Billy and the others achieve their goals?
My primary role is to support Hamish support the riders in the best way he can. I need to make sure all the services we can provide for each individual are appropriate. And I have to find funding. And I have to be answerable for the results we get to the people that provide the funding. Overall though, I try to the guys that know best -Lesley McKenna and Hamish McKnight – run with it. The culture has been successful so far, so why change it. I try and listen basically.
What’s your background? What do you bring to this role? How will it help someone like Jamie?
I spent twenty years in high performance sports – by which I mean the top level of sport. So I can make people aware of what other sports have done at the very top level, and how that might work of us.
But today high performance basically means the Olympics. This summer really nailed that to the mast. That is the key indicator at the top level of sport funding. Those are the goals posts I’ve been given, and that’s basically what we’re working on now.
So there you have it: a public apology from Paddy on the delivery of his comment as well as some background on his reasons for writing it in the first place. He also makes a fair point that the sensationalist bumoles that write the Daily Mail would have gone to town on something like this – a prospect far, far more unappealing than these Tweets…
But what do you make of Paddy’s response? Does he raise a fair point in suggesting that as our Olympic hopefuls begin to encroach more and more into the mainstream public eye that they will need to increasingly self-moderate what they post on social media sites and elsewhere? Do they have a growing responsibility to keep the people that (in many cases) are helping to fund their training happy? Or with this being snowboarding and all, should they be allowed to act as they please – being judged only on the sport that they participate in and nothing else? Should snowboarding be an exception to the rule or does its very inclusion in the Olympics mean that snowboarders should behave in line with other athletes?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!