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Dear IFSC,
I am resigning from you today. After 14 years of trying to be a part of you, I have come to believe that I will never get further than the waiting room no matter what I do. And might have done, literally everything…

I always say I don’t like team sports, and it’s true, but rarely say why: when I was a kid attending a public school in Zimbabwe, the other kids weren’t very nice to me. I left that school midyear, with a broken arm from playground bullying. But I didn’t leave because of the bullying, I left because I had visibly broken my arm at 10 in the morning and my mother didn’t find out about it until she picked me up a 5 pm. The teenage prefects, several teachers and a school nurse all agreed the little coloured boy was just faking to skip class.

Yet, I recently watched a documentary on the Matildas soccer team and one of the young players had the dream of being the fastest player in the world. It reminded me that when first heard about you, before I had even attended an event, my dream was to be the best route setter in the world. It seems childishly naive now, but childhood dreams are perhaps the purest form of passion. They give you the drive to do more work than you ever thought possible.

In the last 14 years, I have worked for 11 IFSC events including a World Championship, set around 30 major comps in 15 countries on 4 different continents, taught over 30 workshops on every aspect of route setting, including 4 continental courses that I wrote, planned, budgeted and executed under your name.
In the course of doing all this, I also figured out that working with athletes was even more rewarding than setting competitions so I did everything I could to get involved with training to improve my knowledge of coaching and route setting, I was involved with over 30 training or selection camps in more than 10 countries. I worked with top ranked teams as well as gold medalists and record breaking athletes 1-on-1. All told, over 100 events.

While doing all this I also held down full time jobs, because in your sport being an internationally recognised expert of many years does not warrant sufficient pay to make a living and raise a family. So I chased my dream from France to the United States, Canada, back to the US and now Australia: just to try to stay at the top, to become good enough to join you.

But like my first experiences of racism at school, it took me a long time to understand that from the very beginning of my career I was not wanted. 2011 was the last of the IFSC route setter courses where national setter from all countries came to learn, be evaluated and get the coveted title of IFSC route setter. I had just successfully chiefed French Youth Nationals, set 4 IFSC events in the same year including two World Cups back to back. My technical director had informed me that there was a list of 10 recommended setters in France ordered by how experienced and deserving they were to represent France at your events. I was somewhere near the top of that list, but somewhere a decision was taken and I ended up being the only person on that list to not be admitted. No reason given.

I was also informed that I would never set another National event in the country I held a passport with (still no reason given) so I decided to leave, to find another way. Any way...
Followed all these years of comps travel, work, expatriation, visa procedures in 3 different countries, immense personal sacrifice and investment from my partner, all to chase my dream, preaching to who would listen about how amazing this sport was, how much it had given me, not wanting to see all it was taking from me.

Between 2016 and 2022 there was no way for me to set international events, then in 2022, to my total surprise I found myself a junior route setter representing Australia. Having a 6 year gap in essential career experience, being 10 years older than any of my peers and then to have so many issues with my nominations are all things that have contributed to me feeling insufficient, unimportant, incompetent. It occurred to me that I had coached some of my peers as youth athletes, set World Cups for others before they retired and now their experience and mine is considered equal in your system.

In my dream I had hoped to chief a World Cup one day; consecration would have been to chief a World Championship. Is that ridiculous? It seems so stupid and arrogant to write down now. I see now that is what some of the friends I lost on the way certainly thought of me.


Over the years I was occasionally given explanations why my advancement was not possible.
Here are some of the best sellers:

  • You are from that country, so it’s impossible.

  • You are not from this country, so it’s impossible.

  • You are not the only one.

  • You are kind of an exception, it makes things difficult.

  • You were unlucky.

  • Be nicer.

  • Be patient.

  • Maybe try to keep your head down.

  • We cannot give a positive outcome this time but continue to speak up, we need your voice.

  • You are not a team player.

  • You are not patriotic enough.

  • You need to be on the list, for us to help you.

  • There is no money for you.

  • I’m sorry, we can’t help you.

  • Try again next year.

  • Only the route setting Commission can decide.

  • Only the Sport Department can decide.

  • Only your National Federation can decide.

  • We need to wait for X commission to decide at the end of the season.

  • Let’s wait to see how things go next season.

  • No reason given.

The issue between the world and me is that it most often only sees me only as black; but I see myself as black and white. I suffered the same type of denial white men have used to plough through civilisations to chase the same type of dream that black men hoped would change their plight.

But I wasn’t always discriminated against as a black man, sometimes it was just because I was a route setter.

In the course of working for you, and as recently as last year, I experienced:

  • Denial of my experiences of racism by a veteran member of your team.

  • I have worked for at least two of your events unpaid but for expenses.

  • Event accommodation for a team of 5 provided with only 3 beds.

  • Being told before a meeting about development that there this would not be an opportunity for me to make more money.

  • Being micro managed by an organizer telling me which holds to use while ignoring the advice from our team that the number of holds was insufficient.

  • Having to pay part of my travel expenses.

Over the years, as our sport matured the rules that govern who can set international events have changed and evolved. And in every iteration you, as an organisation, have decided when those rules apply and when they can have some flexibility. I have no doubt it took a lot to bring our small niche sport 30 years ago to the modern Olympic sport it is today. I do wonder how, across all those years, and all those evolutions, there was never once an evolution that allowed me to join the IFSC setting group? Or why diversity and inclusion in the setting group in particular are so poorly attended to, and honestly from where I stand it looks pretty performative. I think I speak for all the people who are directly concerned with equity, diversity, and the power of sport to change society that we wish you did better.

But I never wanted to be the diversity setter, I wanted to be the best setter. I much prefer the conclusion that I failed my dream because I wasn’t good enough rather than be happy of what I have achieved as a person of colour. 
If I work for you, in the context of today’s complex work dynamics, I am an ambassador for people of colour whether I like it or not. So I would rather step away than give any of my image to your piss poor efforts to support climbing in Africa or Oceania, educate and care for setters, or include women or non-binary folk in the setting group to list only a few...

My father experienced systemic racism in an era when the term systemic racism didn’t exist. His talent and dreams destroyed him from the inside. I now understand how it feels to be powerless to advance in your life the way you wanted. I refuse however to let it estrange me from my family, friends and passion for climbing.

Though I didn’t know it then, my very last IFSC competition was in Birmingham, Alabama, the cradle of the American Civil Rights Movement and it encapuslated almost all the the things I love about setting competitions: discovering new places, meeting new people, being creative with others, experiencing lots of wonderful climbing, old and new friends from all over the world, even rock climbing!

Please take better care of route setters and their dreams moving forward, remember that they make the Climbing that is in your name, without it you are nothing. The image they project as the people who create the playing field for some of the most remarkable athletes in the history of Sport defines how the rest of the industry treats their setters. I understand it is difficult, expensive, political, but ultimately these types of actions are the very fabric of our lives and society.

As I peacefully lay my dream to rest, I want to thank all the people within you as an organisation who helped me and are fighting still for the betterment of our sport and culture. This letter is as far as I could carry supporting those efforts within the IFSC but, when I heal from this loss, I will do my best to continue helping climbing thrive in my region and at all the events I hope to work for in years to come. We still share the same goals, I only wish you had acknowledged my work. I wish you had at least had the decency to respond to my resignation email...

I believe that true mastery in route setting, the quality of the greatest setters I have worked with at World Cups is that of creating fairness of opportunity for each and every athlete who climb our boulders and routes. Regardless of their rank, my greatest hope always, as a setter is that they feel as though that their result was a product of the hard work they put in with their team and coaches; I always took it as an immense responsibility and an honor to create for people so brave to come and measure themselves against our climbs on your stages.

Thank you for the many wonderful memories, places and people you gave me the opportunity to encounter.

With regards,

Tonde Katiyo

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