You are here:
“It’s All In The Details”

2018 Climbing World Championships

“It’s All In The Details”

Final preparations are underway and the countdown is on for the Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck. 

Text: Eva Schwienbacher, Picture: Johannes Mayr / Alpsolut

Innsbruck was named as host of the 2018 Climbing World Championships, and as the days count down to September 6, the wheels are starting to turn at a quicker rate for the man tasked with leading the delivery. We talked to Michael Schöpf, CEO of the World Championships, to get the latest from the final preparations.  

Michael, as CEO of the Organizing Committee you are tasked with delivering the Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck in September 2018. Ever have those nights when you can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing? Michael Schöpf: Well, yes, as usual, as the clock ticks towards the event, I have some overactive mind-induced restless nights. I keep a notebook on my nightstand to get the tasks out of my head and on paper. I’m thinking of the Championships 24 hours a day and the stress of having too much to do—or the fear of forgetting something—can really keep you up at night. 

You have huge executive experience in running big sporting events, such as the World Cup events on Innsbruck Market Square or the 2017 IFSC Youth Climbing World Championships. Will this knowledge and expertise be helpful for this event? Of course, there’s enough experience. As a team we have staged some big events in sport in the last ten years and I look forward to working alongside them on these Championships. But a major event that is going to attract thousands and thousands of spectators, like the one we’ll be putting on, is going to be different. It is a pretty interesting time. 

Every successful event needs an active organizing committee. What is the role of the committee and who is responsible for doing what? On the one hand there is the non-operational committee, which is comparable to a board of directors and consists of ten people – including representatives of sponsors and supporters, local authorities of Innsbruck and the provincial government along with the Austrian Alpinist Association and the Austrian Climbing Association. On the other hand we have a team of eight individuals with specific roles and responsibilities in the operational committee. This is quite a small number of people if you consider that the 2016 IFSC Climbing World Championships in Paris were carried out by 40 team members assisted by roughly 150 volunteers. Thanks to our experience, though, I am confident that we will put on a great show.

So you think that a small team can deliver a big event? It’s not about quantity but about quality, I guess. Of course, it is important to allocate tasks and duties, taking into consideration individual team members’ skills, expertise and competencies. But just because our team is small doesn’t mean it can’t be a powerhouse. After all, sometimes the best things really do come in small packages. Among the benefits of a small team is that communication and decision-making is much easier and faster.

Michael Schöpf, EXPA Pictures © JFK

“We are not aiming to make ours the biggest and best Championships yet. As long as we get a fantastic one-off event that benefits everyone, that’s the goal.”

What does a typical working day look like for you? I am not able to actually work between 8:00am and 5:00pm. By the time normal business hours are underway, my day is spent rolling with the punches, so to speak. I take advantage of the time from 6:00am to 8:00am to check emails so I can clear away any smaller tasks before my team arrives and meetings follow. After 5:00pm, I catch up on administration tasks that need my full concentration and effort and plan my next day, which takes about one or two hours.

What is your main responsibility as CEO of the Organizing Committee? Well, I’d describe the job profile as a Swiss Army knife (laughs). It is a Jack-of-all-trades challenge: I have to be clear in what each of my key skills is good for and demonstrate them with precision. And I have to know where I have to ask an expert and whom to trust.

What has been your most unexpected experience in the last few months? The most surprising questions or tasks? Well, unexpected things happen daily.  Especially when it comes to TV productions and broadcasting. Just to let you know: The 2016 IFSC Climbing World Championships in Paris were covered by 16 television stations, one of which provided live coverage. We will have 130 television stations from around the world and probably eleven of them will broadcast live.

What is the biggest challenge of organizing Climbing World Championships? I cannot make any general statements on that matter. You know, there is no such thing as that one and only Climbing World Championships. Each and every event is different. We are not aiming to make ours the biggest and best Championships yet. As long as we get a fantastic one-off event that benefits everyone, that’s the goal. When we started planning for the 2018 World Championships we set the theme of “make friends. climb. celebrate.” For the first time in the history of the event there will be nightly Medals Presentation at the Medal Plaza in downtown Innsbruck. And we have worked out an extensive program of side events at the Climbers Paradise Village, located on Market Square. Most importantly, however, we will do all we can to create an environment where athletes can give their best. We can’t deliver the last bit, that’s down to the climbers, but they’re all super-competitive and it’s one of the big events of their year so they are all desperate to win it.

Michael Schöpf

“Most importantly, however, we will do all we can to create an environment where athletes can give their best.”

© Stefan Voitl

Overall, what can spectators expect from the 2018 Climbing World Championships? What are the highlights? It will be the first time that Austria hosts the Climbing World Championships and Innsbruck will welcome the world’s finest climbers battling it out on the world stage. It’s hard to pick a single highlight. I would prefer the whole Championships being one big highlight. I would encourage spectators coming here and joining the fierce competitions—even those who aren’t dedicated followers of the sport. There will be some stunning performances and world record attempts in the Speed finals, for example. Yet spectators can expect ample entertainment with music and filled with thrilling and heart-warming moments with every single event. One of the original goals that we set for ourselves as an organizing committee was to make these Championships as easily accessible as possible to promote the sport of climbing as widely as possible. 

Will there be live coverage? With live streaming of all events on the YouTube website spectators will be taking the 2018 World Championships with them wherever they go. The Austrian Broadcasting Company will serve as the Host Broadcaster with live coverage of semi-finals and finals on ORF Sport Plus. Eurosport will carry live coverage of the finals and most semi-finals.

Will you offer a viewing location with big screens? Although we are able to utilize the needed infrastructure, we haven’t planned an official viewing location. Market Square will only serve as an overflow viewing location when Olympia World Stadium is full. We aim at bringing spectators to the stadium and making sure they have a good time. We want them being a part of the action.

2017 IFSC Youth Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck. 

Located in the heart of Innsbruck, Market Square will play host to the Climbers Paradise Village from September 6 to 16, 2018.

© Stefan Voitl

How are ticket sales going for the World Championships? And where do spectators come from? We are really delighted with how ticket sales are going. We have already sold one third of tickets for the finals. Most of the tickets are being sold to home supporters from Austria, followed by Italy’s South Tyrol and Southern Germany. Moreover, we have sold tickets to Switzerland, Poland, the USA and Russia.

Only a few days after the Climbing World Championships have come to an end, Tirol will have another opportunity to shine as the world looks on Innsbruck for the 2018 UCI Road World Championships. Is there any collaboration between the two? Well, both events revolve around the theme of ‘climbing’. Apart from this, these two events do not have a lot in common as the sports are very different. We have been working together on a few opportunities. For example, there was a joint media event on occasion of the Nordic Ski World Cup in Seefeld. Moreover, the two Championships are literally and figuratively on the move in Innsbruck with busses wrapped in the “look” of both the Cycling and the Climbing Championships providing daily service throughout town. 

The Cycling World Championships are said to be the toughest yet. What can athletes expect from the Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck? Can you tell us something about route setting? Well, route setting is the responsibility of the experts provided by the International Climbing Association – as event organizers we have no influence in the matter. Our aim is to create an environment where athletes can give their best and that is an amazing challenge. The qualifying rounds will take place outdoors, which makes it impossible to ensure the same conditions for each climber, from first to last. There are some things we don’t have any control over, like the weather for example. But we will work very hard to get everything else under control, from the warm-up areas and the athletes’ lounge to catering – we will do our best so that the world’s best athletes can give their best.

Recently, the budget was increased from Euro 2.36 million to Euro 2.8 million. Where does the taxpayers’ money go into? One quarter of the budget goes into the three event venues. The budget was not increased because we did get our sums wrong. To the contrary, we were able generate more sponsors than expected. However, we wanted to invest this money into the experience of the Climbing World Championships, into the quality of the event itself. Of course, we could save expenses if we cut down the Climbers Paradise Village on Market Square and the related entertainment program. But we aim to offer a high quality program of side events. Moreover, back in 2014 – when we were named as host of the 2018 Climbing World Championships – climbing has not been in the Olympics; it will make its Olympic debut at the 2020 Games in Tokyo with a new multidiscipline climbing event. This additional new format requires two extra days in the 2018 Championships, which of course are adding up to the total costs of the event.

What do you think? Who has the biggest medal potential in the Austrian National Team? A strong medal hope is Jakob Schubert. He has been a proven medal winner in Lead climbing since 2010. It won’t be easy as competition will be fierce in the men’s Lead event, however. Jessica Pilz is my medal hope in the women’s events. We have a strong team and there is genuine medal potential, although it is always a different story to compete in front of the home crowd.

Jessica Pilz and Jakob Schubert are Austria’s strongest medal hopes. EXPA Pictures © JFK

© Heiko Wilhelm

With just a few weeks to go before the 2018 Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck, what are the final preparations for the event? The preparations are underway and the venues are ready. From now on, it’s all in the details. From selecting the best muesli bars for the elite athletes over venue branding to fine tuning in sports issues.

And how do you manage to un-jumble all those nervous thoughts at night? Well, it’s hard to relax and get away from it all at the moment. Sometimes it feels like I don’t have a plan for conquering it all. Spending time with my children helps – and turning the mobile phone off. In late May I was on vacation in Croatia for one week and I left my mobile at home.

When it comes to impacts and benefits of the Climbing World Championships – what are your hopes for Tirol and Innsbruck, the Climber’s Town? First, I hope that the whole event will run smoothly and that there will be no injuries, neither athletes nor spectators. In my opinion, this whole thing has already been worth all the efforts and money spent on alone for the amazing infrastructure improvements. Built specifically to host the Worlds, the Innsbruck Climbing Center will establish a long-lasting legacy of climbing in Innsbruck for individuals of all ages and abilities. Basically, we need financial commitment from politics and the tourism industry for climbing to be taken seriously if we want to host events like that in Innsbruck in the future. Climbing has made some rapid development all over the world. When it comes to hosting international climbing events, Innsbruck has to compete with cities like Munich, Moscow, Paris, Tokyo, and Shanghai to name but a few. Thus it is important to have the perfect infrastructure. One of our big tasks is to alter public perception – we aim at making Tirol a land of climbing as much as it is a land of skiing now. And we hope that there will be a generally favourable public perception of the World Championships in Tirol, the kind of “what a fun, once-in-a-lifetime event this was for us.” And that we can do something like this again.

Thank you for talking to us.

© 2017 Tirol Werbung