Climb Ethic

Communication to Member Federations about the Ethics of IFSC Governance

2021-06-07 Maria Izquierdo - PAC special assembly may 2021 report with complaints against General Director Behaviour

Given that the members of the Ethics Commission are appointed by the General Assembly.
Given that an objective of the IFSC is to protect the integrity of Sport Climbing and World Sport Climbing by developing and enforcing standards of conduct and ethical behaviour and implementing good governance.
Given that an objective of the IFSC is to fight against any form of harassment.
Given that the Ethics Commission intends to protect and encourage ethical values in all IFSC.
Given that the General Assembly is the highest body of the IFSC and has ultimate authority for all activities of the IFSC.
Given that the members of the Ethics Commission have been un-invited to attend the upcoming General Assembly.
Given that the Executive Board has decided not to send the report of the Ethics Commission to National Federations.

The Ethics Commission feels it is obligated to directly inform IFSC Member Federations of the following:

1. The Ethics Commission is aware of complaints from Executive Board members to the Executive Board mentioning “personal attacks”, “political interference”, “malicious insinuations intended to harm reputations”, “aggressive and unappropriated responses” and “denial of support”. [See the Statement from Maria Izquierdo, President of the Panamerican Continental Council, theemail from Romain Thevenot, President of the Oceanian Council and the email from Debbie Gawrych, Secretary-General.]

2. The Ethics Commission has received reports from Executive Board members to the Executive Board complaining about inappropriate behavior of the IFSC Office during official meetings. [See in particular the Report on the PAC Special Assembly of May 2021.]

3. Following a report about sexual harassment against a newly elected President of a Continental Council, and thus Member of the Executive Board, the Executive Board has suspended that member without waiting for the Preliminary Assessment of the Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission was not even informed of that decision by the IFSC Office.

4. Key investigation questions posed to an Executive Board Member remain unanswered and ignored.

5. The Sexual Harassment report of the Ethics Commission was judged “insufficient” by the Executive Board. The Ethics Commission had no opportunity to present its report or provide supplementary information.

6. The Executive Board has mandated an independent expert to assess the Ethics Commission conclusions about this case of Sexual Harassment. The independent expert has found “no reason to doubt the Ethics Commission’s reasoning with respect to its opinions”. At this date, no follow-up from the IFSC Office or the Executive Board has ensued.

7. The Ethics Commission has withdrawn from the Statutes Revision Working Group expressing “grave concerns” about IFSC governance, and in particular the governance of this revision process, the lack of transparency and the failure to properly include participation of Member Federations.

8. The Ethics Commission has sent a formal letter to the IFSC President alerting him about grave ethical concerns and risks, in particular:
a. Risk the IFSC of being accused of unjust/undue process.
b. Risk of instrumentalization of the issue of Sexual Harassment.
c. Risk of Manipulation of the Executive Board.
d. Risk of the work of the Ethics Commission being undermined.
At this date, no follow-up from the IFSC President has ensued.

9. In his resignation to his position as President of a Continental Council and a member of the Executive Board, we can read the following declaration, which remains to be investigated:

“This week a president of our region called me very worried, because had a conversation with
a person very close to the case, and this person reported that they are willing to go to any
lengths, even to destroy my life, affecting even my family, I am totally sure that this
information was an indirect message for me, because they knew they were going to tell me.”

10. The Ethics Commission sent a Formal Alert to all IFSC Executive Board members to specify critical issues that may constitute breach of governance and a violation of ethical values IFSC has sought to uphold. This letter asks 18 questions that still await answers.

11. After having been invited to the General Assembly, and have registered to participate in person, the Ethics Commission has been signified that its members were not allowed to participate in person to the General Assembly.

12. After having been notified that the 2022 Report of the Ethics Commission will be sent to Member Federations, the Ethics Commission has subsequently learned that “the report of the Ethics Commission is not receivable and cannot be sent to the General Assembly as it is”.

We are concerned by these dysfunctions. We believe that the governance of IFSC needs to improve to meet fully acceptable standards of ethics.

We have made numerous attempts to engage IFSC leadership in conversations. We regret when our alerts do not seem to lead to substantial responses. At time, we also felt that our work was obstructed.

As Sport Climbing becoming a part of the Olympic Family, and IFSC’s vision is to be a good example of all sports, it is time to self-check and reinforce good governance. We sincerely hope that the governance of IFSC will improve and we recommend:

1. A protection of the Ethics Commission and its ability to alert stakeholders of critical ethical issues and risks. Besides, everyone should be free to communicate with the Ethics Commission and no one should be threatened for doing so.

2. A values-based approach, participative and constructive, and based on the principle of Fair Process for the revision of IFSC Statutes and Bylaws.
Besides following recommendations from the International Olympic Committee such as the “Third Review of International Federations Governance” 2020 report, we recommend anchoring the process in the values expressed by IFSC stakeholders, and especially in the document “Voices of IFSC Leaders: Member Federations”.

3. A separation of managerial roles from governance.
It is an important characteristic of good governance to separate it from execution. In our opinion, the scope and role of the Ethics Commission should be determined by the General Assembly which is the governing body electing its members. This would also help to avoid conflicts of interest.

4. A transparent and open communication among IFSC governing bodies.
As the IFSC is entering a new phase of its existence, governance needs to evolve and in particular towards more open forms of communication. For instance, Member Federations should be provided with a forum to have direct communication among them so as to foster solidarity and cooperation. Executive Board members should be free to express their views and concerns without intimidation and risks of retaliation. The IFSC Office should make more effort to nurture such openness and transparency.

5. A strategy to protect athletes and ensure safety for IFSC stakeholders.
The safeguarding of athletes should be a strategic priority for the IFSC. We have proposed to present such a strategy to the Executive Board and have prepared a Safe Climbing Action Plan. This is informed by the IOC Safeguarding Officers Program.

6. A full investigation of the above-mentioned case of sexual harassment and its antecedents.
The Preliminary Assessment provided by the Ethics Commission should be followed up. Investigative questions from the Ethics Commission should be answered and analysis completed. We would then be able to draw conclusions and learn from experience.

The members of the Ethics Commission believe that ethical values are best protected and promoted through open dialogue and conversation. We would welcome any attitude whereby IFSC President, IFSC Office and IFSC Executive Board acknowledge the issues, concur in the assessment that the entailed risks cannot and should not be denied, and realize that a reform of IFSC governance is an opportunity to serve the sport and the athletes, as well as all the people who put effort towards this aim.

Should Member Federations wish to reinforce the role of ethics as an independent entity, we recommend to study the example of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation. This newly created and role-model institution was founded in January 2019 by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), the world governing body for the sport of gymnastics with 148 member national federations. It now operates independently to ensure that violations of FIG rules, policies, and procedures, including ethical breaches, are handled in an unbiased way. It focuses on:

• Safeguarding: Protecting athletes and other participants from harassment and abuse.
• Disciplinary: Carrying out disciplinary proceedings in accordance with policies and procedures.
• Compliance: Monitoring good governance and ethical principles of the International Federation and its members.