Good news everyone! The UK won an Olympic medal for Skateboarding!
Bad news everyone! The CEO of Skateboard GB slipped up with a silly comment in an interview with the BBC.
When asked if he skates, James Hope-Gill (aged 52) disappointingly answered:
“I’m not a skateboarder. There’s no way I’m getting on a skateboard, I’m way too old. Give me a set of golf clubs and I’m happy.”
OK, let’s not get too personal or angry about this (as I have seen many doing so on social media). If the CEO of SkateboardGB doesn’t want to skate, if he wants to play golf, and if he wants to bring whatever knowledge he has to the table and improve skateboarding in the UK, that’s fine.
He is allowed to say he isn’t a skateboarder, he is allowed to be open about that and to say it just isn’t for him – to be in the position he is, he must at least appreciate it as an activity, which is fine. I think we often forget that skateboarders have very few allies, so when someone like Hope-Gill wants to represent us it’s a two way street: if we teach people like him about skating, he can maybe bring his knowledge and improve skateparks, or perception of skaters, or whatever else.
I think the biggest slip-up he made with this answer is the thing about age. If he had said “I’m not a skateboarder, I’m awful at it and it isn’t for me, but I really appreciate it as a sport”, he would be getting far less flack. The minute he said “I’m way too old”, he showed a gross misunderstanding of the sport he supposedly represents.
Rune Glifberg, a man merely 6 years his junior, competed in the Men’s park competition the exact same day he came out with this quote. Tony Hawk, perhaps the most successful skateboarder of all time by many different metrics, who still skates, and was snapped boosting airs on the very course where Sky Brown earned a bronze medal last week, is one year older than him.
OK, they are both pro skaters with many years under their belt. How about Mr Kinoshita, the octogenarian Japanese skateboarder who gained fans the world over when he began skating at 80 years old – who is now getting a guest pro board from Heroin Skateboards (an announcement that came comically soon after Hope-Gill’s interview).
This is an ageist, silly comment. It ignores the hundreds of skaters over the age of 50 in his own country, many of whom set up the backbone for this country’s skateboarding industry. It gives an impression that the “official” body of UK skateboarding thinks that skateboarding is just for kids, and it perpetuates an out-dated and insulting viewpoint in this country that you shouldn’t be skateboarding if you are over a certain sell-by date.
The Olympics already had it’s wave of detractors in skateboarding. Personally I was very much on the fence about it. I skipped the street comp because it just wasn’t my thing. I tuned in for the park comps as that was my thing and there were some skaters I really like watching taking part. When I saw Sky Brown’s bronze medal run I actually felt really proud to see skateboarding on this huge stage, and to see someone representing our shitty little island somehow beat the likes of Bryce Wettstein and Poppy Starr Olsen (personally I think both of them got screwed by the judges but I also recognise not everyone is gonna enjoy boneless disasters and Bryce channeling The Gonz).
Riding high off of this amazing achievement, I was so proud of the skateboarders who worked so hard to support the team and ensure our world was represented by those who are fully ingrained with it. People like Derby Daz, Marc Churchill and Lucy Adams, who I had encountered at some point during my 20 years of skateboarding, up here showing their passion and dedication for a plank with wheels.
I can’t help but feel that Hope-Gill’s comments have done a massive disservice to all of the hard work everyone else put in. It is borderline tone deaf, and the offhand way with which he said it just came across as callous, like he was being recognised by the cool kids and all of a sudden was embarrassed by the skateboarders who had carried him to this point in his career. It was a disappointing, cringe-worthy comment.
I’m not sure I share the same belief of others who are clamouring for his resignation as CEO. What he said is not akin to some of the other awful acts CEO’s have done – you only have to look at the news to see the stories of video game publisher Activision Blizzard perpetuating a culture of harassment and bullying, and responding to it with talk of union-busting and ignorance to see how much CEO’s get away with with no consequences. James Hope-Gill said something very silly about skateboarding on TV, he isn’t here driving employees to suicide. We are allowed to make mistakes, and this was just that.
Instead of giving him shit for playing a bit of golf (which doesn’t make us any better than the assholes who bully us for riding a skateboard), I would want to see Hope-Gill lead by example. He can start by trying to skate himself. No one is expecting him to be busting thunderous Lien Tails on Vert like Jim The Skin, and he doesn’t have to do much more than cruise about occasionally, but it would be good for him to actually do the “sport” he gets paid to represent, and to not use age as an excuse to avoid that.