This is how the IFSC takes action against RED-S in competition climbing

The international sport climbing association has adopted new competition guidelines in the fight against relative energy deficit syndrome, or RED-S for short. This primarily makes the national associations responsible.

The IFSC has been criticized for years, not enough against it RED-S as well as eating disorders in climbing. Yesterday the international sport climbing association published its new competition guidelines with which it wants to better protect athletes.

The new policy provides for a multi-stage process for obtaining an international competition license. This involves the climbers, their associations as well as the IFSC and an external advisory committee. The new RED-S policy places particular responsibility on national associations.

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The national federations are key to the success of the new policy, as the health and well-being of athletes falls under their responsibility at the national level.

Marco Scolaris, IFSC President

A lot of responsibility at the national level

With its new competition guidelines, the IFSC is handing over a lot of responsibility to the national sport climbing associations. An approach that the DAV, as one of the larger associations, views positively.

“From our point of view, this is consistently going in the right direction, even if there are still individual detailed questions to be clarified.”

Nico Schlickum, national trainer for education and science

It sounds similar at the Swiss Alpine Club SAC. Kevin Hemund, Head Coach & Head of Competitive Sport Swiss Climbing, thinks it is good and right that the IFSC assumes its role and assumes responsibility. “The approach makes sense in that it contains different stages and tools with different degrees of evaluation and that these are scientifically based, broadly supported and recognized.”

Nico Schlickum welcomes the fact that the new policy aims to provide equally adequate health care internationally. “As far as measurements and information collection are concerned, we are already very well positioned in Germany in terms of the national concept. It is right that others are now also held responsible.”

The effectiveness of the new directive depends on its implementation, i.e. when it comes to whether associations will ban their most successful athletes if their health risk is assessed as very high. What is certain is that competition bans have never been presented with this consistency as in the flowchart above.

Effectiveness is of course a question of implementation. What happens if a national association does not comply?

Nico Schlickum, national trainer for education and science

The SAC sees the point of delegating or leaving the first and perhaps most important assessment to the associations as “less sensible and helpful to the problem”. “Whether athletes will be excluded as a result, especially from the OS, cannot be assessed at this point in time, says Kevin Hemund. He further emphasizes that it is not about excluding athletes, but rather about protecting them.

The goal must be to be able to present healthy athletes and a healthy sport. In addition to guidelines, screening and monitoring, this requires awareness and attention, training, sensitization and prevention, as called for by the IFSC in the SAC statement last year.

Kevin Hemund, head coach & head of competitive sports Swiss Climbing

This is how you want to identify people at risk

In a first step, the athletes fill out a questionnaire about low energy availability (LEA for short) and about RED-S. BMI, heart rate and blood pressure are also recorded.

Based on this information, the associations must identify people at risk and carry out further medical examinations and laboratory tests on them (e.g. bone density, testosterone levels or lipoprotein LDL).

With these results the RED-S calculator from the International Olympic Committee, which spits out a risk status: If the traffic light is green (no or very low risk) or yellow (mild risk), you can take part in competitions.

If orange (moderate to high risk), the individual is permitted to compete provided they are assessed and treated by national federation medical staff prior to IFSC competitions and throughout the season.

Only when red – and therefore a very high health risk – is there a license for IFSC competitions. According to the policy, this applies “until the athlete has demonstrated sufficient recovery and has been cleared to participate by the national federation’s medical staff.”

This is what the IFSC does

The International Sport Climbing Federation will store the information provided by national federations and randomly test athletes during the climbing season (including BMI, heart rate and blood pressure).

If critical limit values ​​are exceeded, the case is referred to an external advisory committee. This checks the suspected cases, compares the data collected with the health certificates from the national associations and then makes a decision as to whether it can start or not.

The IFSC will fulfill its duty to protect athletes by restricting their participation in a competition if the committee considers them to be at risk.

Video: Competition climbing has a problem

How effective is the new policy?

At the Sport Climbing World Championships in Bern last summer, there were almost universal doubts as to whether a valid set of rules would exist until the 2024 Olympics. Now the IFSC has followed up on its announcement and introduced a comprehensive guideline on RED-S before the start of the 2024 competition season.

How much the new policy can contribute to protecting athletes will become clear over the course of the season, when it becomes clear whether and how many people will be excluded from taking part in competitions for their own protection. Are the national associations really willing to ban their most successful climbers if necessary? Or is success more important than health?

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Credits: Cover picture Jan Virt | IFSC

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