I took this post down last night after a short amount of time online. Why? Because I was concerned I had published a private letter between Jono Brauer and Jackson Coull without the receiver, Jackson, being aware it was going public.
I have since checked with Jackson’s family who assure me that Jono Brauer’s letter was a public letter and sent to Jackson and other relevant members of the National Alpine Committee. The following post has been edited from it’s original:
With less than a year to go to Sochi athletes are taking to social media to stir up support in their bid to make the Australian Winter Olympic team in 2014. However some were shocked while others applauded when a clearly frustrated Australian alpine racer Jackson Coull posted a tirade on his Facebook page attacking his national sporting organisation.
Here’s the Facebook post below.
Over the past 12 years that I have been involved in Ski racing at either a National or International level, I have never had a good relationship with my national organisation (Ski & Snowboard Australia), but then again it is difficult to get along with a bunch of flogs that strive to do the bare minimum when you are giving everything to get somewhere in a sport.
Despite being the best skier for my age in Australia in nearly every year that I have competed, it’s hard to find a time where they have actually supported me in any form. When I was 12 I was left out of the National Team despite winning the National Giant Slalom by 5 seconds and the second run of the Slalom by over a second. More recently I was the youngest National Team member at 17 and was dropped off it after my last year of high school, after not being able to give my skiing the time it required to make results that season. However, judging by the decisions that the people in this organisation make, an education isn’t that important.
This year I have been forced to pay for a license for events that I don’t compete in, or even intend to compete in where in the past I could have paid for the events I sought to be in. I guess they will do anything for a few more dollars or maybe they made us buy the extra license so that they could claim that we have a large amount of skiers in the other events to try earn themselves some extra cash.
I have never, ever, received any monetary support from my organisation. This week in the one event I competed in, I earn’t them $13000 of which I will never ever see a cent of, nor will the event for which it came from. They even made me give back the race suit I competed in, and failed to provide me with a National Team uniform apart from the suit. Not even for the biggest sporting event in the sport, outside of the Olympics, which is expected to be watched by over 400 million people over the 2 weeks it runs.
For the biggest sporting event of my life, I read a report after the Opening Ceremony that informed the public that the Australian team had opted out of the Ceremony. Well that isn’t exactly true either. Our alpine director had been to lazy to organise our passes for it.
However, we took the van and drove ourselves down and snuck our way into the athlete area anyway.
These latest events occurred over the last few days where I have spent my time at the World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria. I was selected on the back of a single Super G result made nearly 3 months ago, but recently haven’t skied that well in the event and actually sit closer to the criteria for selection in Downhill. The Downhill was the one event I wished to do there and I was entered in it, but was pulled out at the last minute following an unsurprising disappointing result in the Super G. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to them after watching how I have been skiing in the event of late. I spoke to both the National Team Coach and the Director after the race and they both seemed understanding of the situation and would support me, but they made a collective decision to go against me and my wishes claiming it was a safety issue when the same people picked one of my training partners who I have a better world ranking for Downhill and have skied more of it this season. I have skied similar to him in training all year and, oh yeah, he crashed in the Super G so safety seems like it wasn’t the major factor; pretty questionable I have to say.
Furthermore, this money-hungry organisation, ridden with disloyalty from the ground up, has not once thought of Alpine as a sport, when it is clearly the most popular, recognised and respected domain of all racing snow sports. There is not one time I have felt due regard from this organisation, and it’s time it stopped. It’s time this was brought to light and it’s time for a change. This is a complete failure by these absolute clods running the show, and it should cease to occur anymore.
The status update was shared almost seventy times amongst the ski industry of Australia.
Athlete pathways to both government and organisational funding and success are always contentious in a country where snow sports is not considered a mainstream sport. I find it personally difficult to understand how you get funding as a snow sports athlete and I know that bureaucracy is always an issue when dealing with government organisations.
But there are systems and processes for an ‘accountability’ reason. It is not for me to say whether Jackson is right or wrong. I am not an athlete, I don’t actively follow racing, I prefer pow to piste and the only ski race I’ve ever entered was the Thredbo Masters in 2011 and it wasn’t pretty.
I do know, however, what it’s like to be 19, miles from home and family and trying to negotiate the world.
I have not spoken to Jackson Coull about his status update but in true social media style I did share it on my own Snow It All Facebook page because I believe in the right to debate and to be heard and I also believe that social media is about creating a platform to do so. Think of it as free or not so free speech depending your thoughts on social media.
Right or wrong it was either a brave or lunatic thing to do. We all have lessons to learn and I have no doubt Jackson and SSA will both have learnt a few painful ones from this experience.
While there has been no official public response to Jackson, two time Australian Olympian, Jono Brauer, formerly Australia’s number one ranked alpine skier in 2002 and 2003 and currently on the Ski and Snowboard Australia Alpine Committee has written an open right of reply letter to Jackson (first published by a member with a pseudonym called ‘placid’ on ski.com.au) and in the same spirit of debate, I am posting that letter below.
Interesting Facebook post there. As an Australian athlete who competed at the highest level of our sport for 10 years, and following the SSA pathway throughout my career, I feel I am educated and experienced enough to comment on what you have posted.
I believe that some of your comments contain many inaccuracies, and I’d like to clarify these for our friends around the world.
Please keep in mind that these comments are purely my own and do not represent the views of the SSA or the NAC.
In your post you open by saying
“…I have never had a good relationship with my national organisation (Ski & Snowboard Australia), but then again it is difficult to get along with a bunch of flogs that strive to do the bare minimum when you are giving everything to get somewhere in a sport.”
The bunch of flogs that you refer to (including myself) have a combined six Olympic Games, literally dozens of World Championships and combined hundreds of years of experience at the highest level of Alpine skiing. Doing the bare minimum to help our sport is something that none of those on the SSA or NAC Board, nor the parents, friends and other volunteers strive to do. In reality it’s very much the opposite as many of us give up our time (on a purely voluntary basis) in order to work long after you have gone to sleep to strive to create ways to support, grow and implement strategies that see our sport and our athletes move towards the highest level.
Your second paragraph claims that you were “the best skier for my age in Australia”. I agree you are a good skier with considerable potential. You were the highest ranked skier in 1 out of 5 disciplines for 3 of your 4 years competing at FIS level. However, when looking at results, you have not been the “best” athlete for your age at any time of your FIS competition history. You go on to write about how you made the National Team at 17 yrs old and that you were dropped after your last year of high school. The reason you were “dropped” is simple. You had ample time and opportunity to meet the objectively set criteria and you failed to do so. Criteria are set to be adhered to and this is consistent worldwide.
I can’t agree more that education is very important however the reality is that like any chosen path, if you focus all your energy on one thing, the area you are less focussed on will inevitably suffer. There are no concessions made to the set criteria for decisions to concentrate on schooling and as far as I am aware, this is also consistent worldwide. If you focus on your education and not your sport, your sport will suffer and you risk dropping behind and not making set criteria; and vice versa. Whether you want to be an athlete or an academic, the decisions you make and the consequences of those decisions need to be understood. As an adult I think you should take responsibility for your decision to pursue schooling at that time and not ski racing.
You go on to complain about having to pay for a race licence for events you are not competing in. Please could you clarify this, as SSA have FIS licences, which are mandatory for all FIS athletes worldwide, and International Competition Licences, which are mandatory for Australian athletes and are provided FOC to National Team athletes, which you are not. The funds raised by these licences help fund programs, events and the federation of which you take advantage of.
You are absolutely right that SSA are paid for your participation in the World Championship event, as do all national federations for their respective athletes’ involvement. I am confident that if you were to take a survey at Schladming this week to see which athletes receive these funds personally, you would come up with 0. In Australia’s case these funds are used to help fund Alpine programs run under the SSA banner. Examples of the allocated funds are as follows:
– $15,000 grant from SSA via the NAC for the 2013 WSC. From my understanding this is directly subsidising the athletes’ costs to compete at the championships.
– $50,000 directly invested into the Northern Hemisphere programs over the past two years.
– $30,000 invested in equipment such as drills, gates, flags etc as well as dry land support in the form of programs and testing.
– $270,000: the total amount that has been invested into the development of Alpine in Australia over the past two years.
You next stated that the athletes did not attend the opening ceremony because “Our alpine director had been too lazy to organise our passes for it”. I was not there so cannot comment on the exact situation however I can comment on Brad Wall and his incredible work ethic. Brad competed at two Olympic Games and three World Championships. He was one the best technical skiers Australia has ever seen and excelled as an athlete from child racing through to his retirement. He combined being a National Team member for over ten years whilst completing a University degree at Dartmouth College, an Ivy League School in America. In his role as Alpine Director he works tirelessly around the clock to ensure alpine skiing in Australia and its athletes have the absolute best opportunity available now and into the future. Apart from being extremely insensitive, to make a comment like that shows that your understanding of a work ethic is flawed, and suggests that you should do more research before making such unsupported, hurtful statements.
In the 6th paragraph you discuss your results that warranted your inclusion into the event.
“I was selected on the back of a single Super G result made nearly 3 months ago, but recently haven’t skied that well in the event and actually sit closer to the criteria for selection in Downhill. The Downhill was the one event I wished to do there and I was entered in it, but was pulled out at the last minute following an unsurprising disappointing result in the Super G. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to them after watching how I have been skiing in the event of late”.
I’d like to refer to “actually sit closer to the criteria”. The criteria set states that an athlete must sit in the top 200 world ranking list for automatic inclusion and top 500 to gain a coaches recommendation. The fact is that you did NOT make the criteria in either event. Your world ranking at this time is: DH – 554, SG – 556. Your inclusion in the SG was afforded to you, despite not making the criteria, so that you could gain valuable experience competing in major events to help prepare you for the future and give you an understanding of what is required to compete at the top level. The reason for your non inclusion in the Downhill event was because you do not have results that justify inclusion, coupled with not meeting the criteria and for the most part, there were genuine concerns for your safety. Having now watched the Downhill and Combined events, I am 100% confident that the correct decision was made. You should be grateful that you got a run at all, not complain about it. Your capability as a Downhill racer is yet to be proven, and I think you should adjust your outlook and start thinking realistically.
Further to your 6th paragraph, you mention another athlete chosen for the Downhill event. As far as I can see there were no Australian starters in the Mens Downhill or Combined event. Please clarify.
Now your concluding paragraph.You speak of disloyalty. As far as I am aware, you have rejected a multitude of invitations to participate in SSA run and subsidised programs in both Australia and the Northern Hemisphere, both on and off snow since your childhood. Instead, you have chosen to employ personal coaches and run your own personal program. How can you expect loyalty from an organisation to which you are not loyal to yourself?
Your comments regarding SSA not thinking of Alpine as a sport are ridiculous. It is because of Alpine that SSA is running; if they were to disregard Alpine then they would be doing a disservice to not only Alpine but to all winter sports. I can assure you that those who are in charge are far smarter than you think and are constantly implementing strategies to create greater involvement from, as you say, “the most popular, recognised and respected domain of all racing snow sports”.
And finally, you stated “There is not one time I have felt due regard from this organisation, and it’s time it stopped. It’s time this was brought to light and it’s time for a change. This is a complete failure by these absolute clods running the show, and it should cease to occur anymore.” I think that it’s time you showed some regard to the organisation that continues to support you. You need to stop being so narrow minded and start realising what it takes to run these operations. You are not the centre of everyone’s attention and it’s time you realise this. Your current age world rankings are as follows:
DH 70, SG 81, GS 140, SL 239, SC 142.
An athlete with these rankings needs to stop focusing on what he doesn’t have and start focusing on what he needs to do to in order to achieve his sporting goals. If we look at the history of Australian athletes that gained funding at the age of 20 in my era you will see the following rankings for their age:
Jono Brauer SL – 9
Craig Branch DH – 22
AJ Bear SG – 26
Brad Wall GS – 27
Luke Deane SG – 32
All of the above athletes at the time of these rankings were supported in exactly the same manner you are right now. The SSA run programs at that time were subsidised only and there was no direct athlete funding. The athletes, including myself had to pay for their participation into these subsidised programs. These programs coupled with hard work and dedication saw the above results and rankings come to light and it was from there that athletes gained further funding.
With this in mind, instead of focussing on the negative and trying to blame the organisation that supports your sport, you need to shift your focus to train harder and think smarter in order to achieve your goals.
In my experience Jackson, negativity breeds negativity. If you want some positive results, I suggest you turn your attitude a full 180 and with a bit of luck your great potential will be realised.
Please feel free to circulate this to anyone you like. I will take full responsibility for my comments.
So, there you have it. Or so you thought.
I am wary of becoming a mere platform for a public slanging match when clearly there are other avenues all parties could discuss their grievances by. I know that SSA and potentially the Coulls value my readership figures and I am under no illusion about that.
Rohan Coull has asked me to post the response that he and his wife, Glenys, sent to Jono, the National Alpine Committee, SSA and various other alpine bodies.
In that same spirit of debate and a belief in right of reply in a public arena, I shall.
Thank you for asking Jackson to forward this to us. He has now returned to Melbourne and is taking a week away to relax and regroup after 15 months on the road. He plans to respond to you and to write to Brad Wall when his mind is clear next week.
We are not writing on his behalf, but writing as very concerned parents of three boys on Australian National Alpine Teams.
You may also feel free to circulate this in full to anyone you like. We will also take full responsibility for any comments we make.
We plan to write to SSA as parents in the coming days.
We appreciate the time and effort you have taken to construct your letter to Jackson but feel you have missed the point. This about an athlete’s welfare and wellbeing.
We firmly believe that open communication is imperative and that a lack of dialogue between SSA and the athletes has been an ongoing major problem for years. The SSA has many respected and well-liked volunteers and employees on committees and management levels, but the athletes on the ground are not ‘feeling the love’. They are disheartened and are reluctant to speak up. Those who were brave enough to “like” Jackson’s post, were promptly asked to remove their “like”. No one appreciates being told how to think, so they made private comments of support, along with their parents.
These comments are not made in the nature of a personal attack but as a reflection on the systemic problems at SSA for Alpine skiing.
Jackson’s post on Facebook, is that of a frustrated, angry and hurt young man and needs to be put into context.
He was not given the spot in the Downhill and we fully appreciate that this is totally the selector’s prerogative.
But what happened afterward involved an appalling lack of communication. Jackson completed the Super G without incident, but slower than he and the coaches had hoped. He believed he had skied well enough to be given the Downhill spot. He felt sure he had the spot after speaking with Brad. He spent the afternoon after the Super G preparing his downhill skis with his complete focus on his mind for the race the following day. Once he finished his skis, he checked online for his starting bib only to discover he had been removed from the start list.
So the decision was made, the organising committee was advised and the organising committee advised FIS and FIS posted the starting list. We all know this does not happen in an instant. Neither Brad (our Alpine Director), nor Nils (our Head Coach and Jackson’s coach for the past 3 consecutive seasons) contacted Jackson to discuss or counsel him. He bumped into Brad in the foyer and declined to talk with him because he was so upset. By 10pm, there was still no word from either Brad or Nils. Rohan rang Nils and loudly expressed his disappointment in their lack of communication with their team member. We are extremely disappointed by the complete lack of care shown to him on this day.
When Jackson made his post two days later, he still had not had any contact from his Alpine Director or his Head Coach. Five days later, back at SSA camp in Leogang, he had an unannounced visit by our Alpine Director. Jackson by then had resigned himself to no contact from SSA representatives and was startled by Brad’s sudden appearance in his bedroom. He listened, rather than spoke and agreed to write an email expressing his concerns. Jackson, and us, are particularly dismayed about a hastily convened meeting of other athletes five days after the event that specifically excluded Jackson. How does this fit with bridge building, reconciliation and SSA policy?
For the record we are dismayed and disappointed. We put these people in positions due to their skiing ability not their people or communication skills. As an organisation, SSA has a duty of care to support their employees with adequate communication training and minimum standards of service and to provide their athletes with adequate emotional and physical support to ensure their well-being.
As for your response to Jackson’s post, we would like to make the following public comments in order of your letter to our son:
- We appreciate the experience and success that many people in voluntary SSA positions have. We are disappointed with SSA as an organisation for their lack of support for both their employees and their athletes on the ground.
- The Skiing Australia records show that for his year of birth 1993 he has performed at a top level in Australian Skiing over the past 12 years.
- We are concerned, and startled, that SSA has an injury policy but no Year 12 policy. Many other parents have also noted this in their contact with us over the past week. They will be interested to read your views on education. We firmly believe you can have both. Our advice to our children has been to do your best in VCE and defer your University study if you wish to focus on skiing. Remember that Jackson was not an adult when he chose to complete his VCE, and now he is an adult he has deferred his University studies to pursue his racing dreams.
- We refute the claim that other countries do not have a policy around education. This is misleading to others involving themselves in this discussion. While this may have occurred in the past, the setting is vastly different today in 2013. You need to look no further than France and current World Champion, Tessa Worley to see the lengths her country will go to ensure she completes a tertiary education. Interesting to also note that although she could ski for Australia or New Zealand, she has chosen France.
- Let us clarify about the Race licence. All SSA alpine racers in 2012 were required to purchase a Freestyle licence regardless of whether or not they wished to compete or be recognised internationally as a freestyle skier. This was at a substantial cost to SSA. Is this revenue raising (for freestyle by the alpine community) or an attempt by SSA to make the participation numbers in Freestyle look falsely higher than they actually are or both? Where there are rumblings of discontent, the reasons for such impositions must be made clear. Jackson’s position on not wanting to be registered as a Freestyle athlete was made clear to SSA when the fees were due.
- With regard to your comment about SSA being paid for participation, even New Zealand gives $3000 to each participating athlete to assist with his or her expenses and retains $10,000 for their National Body. And, if the National organisation gets $13000 for participation, why not fill our allocation? Easy fundraising we would suggest.
- While you supplied gross financial figures of support for SSA camps, a more specific open analysis would most likely show that the majority of the dollars have been spent on the Skier Cross program. There were certainly no new gates in the alpine program in Leogang this last season. We would be delighted to know what was purchased for Alpine. The ski racing community deserves a breakdown of the funds and where they are directed when those figures are thrown about.
- We support your assertion that “lazy” is not a word to describe our Alpine Director, but I am happy to forward you an unanswered email to him (8 days before the event) suggesting that passes for events be organised well in advance because other teams (including NZ) already had their allocations. Rohan and Jackson both have unanswered emails dating from weeks before the event that went unanswered. Earlier unanswered contact includes a request direct to the SSA office for criteria for selection that was unable to be read or downloaded from a Safari browser. No response. We are happy to forward those emails to SSA if requested.
- We are happy to support the selection criteria but reassert three things. Firstly, communication about selection was poorly handled at this event. Secondly, our SSA association benefits financially from participation in such championships so Quotas should be filled and thirdly, these young athletes benefit from experience on the big stage.
- The other athlete that Jackson refers to is Willis Feasey, a NZ training partner of Jacksons. You will recall that this year Australia and NZ combined coaching and training in North America, Leogang and Schladming. Nils was the Head Coach for both countries and as we understand had sole discretion to enter Willis. We are pleased for Willis and delighted that he was given the opportunity to compete in the Downhill. For the record for clarification purposes, Willis crashed in the Super G and his Downhill rank is 655. Jackson’s Downhill is rank is 554. Willis has far less experience in Downhill than Jackson having only completed 6 Downhills prior to Schladming. Jackson has completed 16 and has two FIS podiums (British National Championships) in this discipline. But the NZ team, and in particular Nils, granted Willis the opportunity to benefit from the experience. Clearly safety was not the primary concern. Willis skied solidly and finished 38th. He will take a positive experience away from the World Championships.
- With regard to not attending SSA camps as a child, that is an unfair and unfounded claim against Jackson. Each year he has completed a Northern Hemisphere approved SSA camp since he was 11 years old competing at Topolino in Pinzolo. You have forgotten that Ivan Pacak was running the SSA approved camps under both Mt Buller Race Club and SSA banners for many years.
- Jackson had only one Northern hemisphere winter in the past 9 years where he did not attend one of these camps and this was in the season prior to his VCE (2010-2011). In this season there was no SSA program to fit with his timetable and we employed a local European coach (Lionel Gruber) from one of the earlier Italian camps. This proved to be much more affordable for us as he could coach all our three boys at the same time.
- As the SSA athlete representative, it would have been wise to check your facts before you made this assertion in an open letter.
- Much more importantly though, it is apparent that the current coaching alternatives are more attractive than the SSA camp. The records show that only 1 out of 14 current Alpine National Team Members (Matilda Coates) attended the 2012-2013 SSA camp in Leogang. The other National Team members are all using alternate programs around the world. SSA needs to ask the athletes and their parents why they are choosing to train elsewhere and address this as a matter of importance. The athletes may be reluctant to speak up but they are certainly voting with their feet.
- We fully understand the SSA funding model. It is athlete support, consultation and communication that is lacking and our major gripe. At no point have we looked to SSA for financial support.
- We strongly suggest that looking at past athletes, rankings and funding is pointless navel gazing. This is not a basis for administering a sport. SSA should be considering the present and the future of Alpine Ski Racing in Australia.
- We totally agree that ‘negativity breeds negativity’. We can only hope that Jacksons’s facebook post finally opens some honest dialogue between SSA, the clubs and their athletes. Surely the athletes are the assets here and should be treated as such.
These comments are made with consideration that we have three athletes currently on Australian Alpine Teams and have had many messages of support from other athletes and their parents.
You may share our response to you in full. We stand by our comments.
Glenys and Rohan Coull
So, there you have it, again. This is the last I will post about this correspondence. Clearly all parties need to find a room, a good mediator, address the concerns that got everyone here and an action plan going forward. I genuinely wish them all well.
Do you think Jackson did the right or wrong thing? Do you think Jono’s response is fair or harsh? Is Facebook the right or wrong platform to air your grievances as an athlete in 2013?
Post a comment below and join the discussion.