'A lot of athletes feel trapped': Jamie Anderson and other snow athletes denounce FIS president

Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Jamie Anderson (right) used her bronze-medal finish at the 2019 FIS World Championships on Sunday as an opportunity to denounce the ski federation's president. Laurent Salino/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

PARK CITY -- In the days leading up to this past weekend's FIS Snowboard World Championships in Park City, Utah, reigning Olympic slopestyle gold medalist Jamie Anderson and several of her peers met to discuss dropping out of the contest in protest of recent comments made by International Ski Federation (FIS) President Gian-Franco Kasper to a Swiss newspaper.

In the interview, which was first reported in the U.S. by Deadspin, Kasper denied the existence of climate change, spoke disparagingly about immigrants and lauded the ease of working with dictators to organize Olympic Games. "I just want to go to dictatorships. I don't want to argue with environmentalists anymore," Kasper said. He later backed down from his comments, saying they "were not meant to be taken literally." But the fire was lit.

Instead of skipping the event, Anderson, 28, and her fellow competitors decided their message would be amplified if spoken from atop a podium. Sunday afternoon, after placing third in a weather-shortened slopestyle contest, Anderson used her post-event media interviews to denounce the leader of her sport's international governing body and call for his resignation. "Most of us were pretty upset and wanted to figure out a way to come together to take a stand," Anderson told ESPN on Monday.

A few hours after the competition, Anderson took her commitment a step further in a post to her 500,000-plus Instagram followers. "To have the 'leader' & President of FIS (@fissnowboard), who represents skiing and snowboarding globally, not acknowledge something that affects our sport each and every day is very disheartening," Anderson wrote in a 275-word post. "I've decided to donate my World Championship prize money to @protectourwinters and I challenge my fellow competitors to do the same."

In the post, Anderson also included a link to a petition and open letter to FIS calling for Kasper's resignation, created by the Colorado-based environmental advocacy group, Protect Our Winters (POW). As of Tuesday, it is unclear whether other athletes joined Anderson in her pledge to donate her winnings -- she said at least one medalist told her he planned to donate his check -- but several spoke out on social media and signed the petition. FIS has not commented further on the matter, and when reached by ESPN for comment, U.S Ski & Snowboard also declined to comment.

"FIS represents all of us -- the freestylers, the racers, women, people from all over the world, skiing and snowboarding," said Danny Davis, a member of the 2014 Olympic snowboard halfpipe team and two-time X Games gold medalist who added his name to the letter. "I give my money to FIS, and I support them by doing their contests. But when you read what Mr. Kasper is saying, it doesn't make you want to be a part of their events. This is just another reason why I want nothing to do with FIS."

But Davis understands why many of his peers have remained silent, caught in an impossible decision between wanting to speak out and not wanting their words to be used against them, or simply wanting to focus on competition. "These kids are so young; why should they understand that some 75-year-old guy doesn't believe in climate change, likes to work with dictators and is anti-woman?" said Davis, who is 30. "Honestly, it's probably not crossing their minds. It didn't cross mine when I was a kid. But somebody's gotta say something, and I'm in a different position from them."

The bad blood between FIS and the snowboarders it represents is long documented. When snowboarding made its debut at the 1998 Nagano Olympics under the FIS umbrella -- the same year Kasper began his term as FIS president -- some of the sport's leading athletes refused to compete in protest of being governed by an organization they believed was out of touch with their sport and didn't have their best interests in mind.

Twenty-one years later, Kasper's comments have resurrected those fears. "Moments like these make it seem like nothing has changed in our sport," Anderson said. "A lot of athletes feel trapped because participating in FIS events is the only way to get support from our national teams and ultimately to qualify for the Olympics. I really hope this can spark change to create our own federation for freestyle snowboarding. FIS is old-fashioned, and they don't understand or respect our sport."

The outrage is not limited to snowboarders. Jessie Diggins, who along with teammate Kikkan Randall, won the U.S.'s first cross-country skiing gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics last February, told ESPN that Kasper's comments have been mealtime conversation at her team's training camp in Davos, Switzerland, where she and her teammates are preparing for World Championships next week.

"FIS is old-fashioned, and they don't understand or respect our sport." Jamie Anderson, 2018 Olympic gold medalist

"I haven't felt that clean and fair competition has been a priority for years now, and I don't feel very well supported by the current FIS leadership, given Kasper's sarcastic comments throwing aside the issue of climate change that currently threatens our sport," Diggins wrote to ESPN in an email from Davos. "I think the president of FIS should be someone who puts the needs of the athletes competing, the integrity and ethics of clean and fair competition, and the preservation of snow sports first. There should not be a conflict of interest between sponsor money and protecting the environment and the athletes under FIS."

This is not the first time Kasper has found himself in hot water with the athletes he represents. In 2005, when women ski jumpers were fighting to be included in the Games, Kasper told National Public Radio that ski jumping, "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view." In 2017, he compared a potential doping ban of Russian athletes from the 2018 Olympics to the Holocaust.

"On a humanitarian level, it's disgusting to know how he thinks of other human beings," 2014 Olympic snowboard slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg told ESPN. "He doesn't belong in that position of power."

And while these athletes understand the issue of climate change has become politicized, for them, it's not a political issue; it's an issue of survival. "Climate change affects everyone, regardless of how they vote or what party they support," Diggins said. "We only have one planet to live on, and it falls on everyone to take responsibility in caring for it. The leader of a ski federation should be invested in protecting the ski industry and taking proactive action against climate change, not denying its existence and refusing to act to protect the sports he governs."

What she and her peers want to know now is, who will step up to protect them?