Testing thousands of pairs of skis is impractical, and is it possible to trace fluor waxing after 100 kilometers? Many fear chaos when the fluor ban is implemented in the long-distance skiing series Ski Classics. Here’s how they plan to handle it.
Photo: Daniel Eriksson/Bildbyrån
Skiers at the of the start of Vasaloppet 2023 in Mora, Sweden.
This season, the total ban on fluor waxes comes into effect. The fluor ban has been approved by both the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS ICR) and the International Biathlon Union (IBU). Therefore, the ban applies to all disciplines and all levels, including cross-country races and the long-distance skiing series Ski Classics.
See facts and background on the fluor ban at the end of the article.
The testing equipment used to check skiers’ skis for traces of fluor has been criticized for giving a green light to skis with fluor traces and vice versa: a red light to fluor-free skis. Last fall, the apparatus was still so unreliable that FIS and IBU decided to postpone the fluor ban for another season.
While the fluor testing equipment is now approved, some athletes and teams are still uncertain and fear chaos when the fluor ban is introduced in the Ski Classics series.
No crisis in Ski Classics
David Nilsson, CEO Ski Classics, understands the skepticism, especially concerning long races with a large number of participants, but emphasizes that Ski Classics supports the ban and adapts to the new rules.
“In recent years, there have been many lengthy discussions about fluor and the fluor ban. Our events and athletes are part of the FIS system, and we have a very good relationship with them. We respect and support the decision for a total ban on fluor. However, cross-country skiing is a discipline with many more aspects to consider than in other skiing disciplines, such as ski jumping. In long-distance races, you cover extremely long distances with many participants. It would naturally be practically impossible to test 16.000 pairs of skis, so we have adapted the testing protocol to our operations in collaboration with FIS,” says Nilsson to Langrenn.com.
Vasaloppet ski fluor ban
The fluor ban applies to all FIS competitions, including cross-country races and long-distance races like Vasaloppet with thousands of participants. At the same time, Nilsson is quick to emphasize that neither he nor the Ski Classics organization hopes that the fluor ban will become a practical problem, but they expect an adjustment period.
“There is no crisis atmosphere around this for us. We have closely followed the process of rule development and testing since FIS decided to introduce the ban, and we now feel very confident that the testing equipment and protocol for enforcing the ban are working. For us, this is now part of the sport, like doping control,” says Nilsson.
Nilsson also points out that the testing protocol developed by FIS for its events at the World Cup level is tailored to starting fields that are much smaller and for venues that look completely different than those in Ski Classics and other long-distance races.
Therefore, Ski Classics has developed its own protocol for how the fluor ban will be handled in its events.
“Our protocol differs little from the one FIS operates with. But it is clear that some things will be different when there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of participants and ninety kilometers between start and finish, compared to maybe 80 women and 80 men going a few laps in courses that are a few kilometers long. FIS understands that, of course,” says Nilsson.
However, the principle of testing is the same. It is tested before the start and after the finish. Each pair of skis will be tested at multiple points.
If the ski shows high fluor values on three or more points, it will turn red. A skier with red skis before the start gets a starting ban and is disqualified. The same applies to skis that test red after the finish: the skier is disqualified. It is the same as in other FIS races.
The story continues below.
Special rules for Ski Classics
In addition to FIS’s general regulations and procedures for fluor testing, Ski Classics has introduced some of its own rules for Pro Teams.
If a skier tests positive either before the start or after the finish, the team receives a deduction of 50 points in the team competition.
It is also the case that athletes must be in the starting area at least 15 minutes before the start so that testing can be carried out. Skiers who arrive up to five minutes late for the start receive a fine of 500 euros. Those who arrive more than five minutes late are disqualified. This is to prevent teams and athletes from speculating in arriving at the last minute to “miss” testing.
Furthermore, it will not be allowed for anyone other than skiers in the paddock after the finish.
“What we want with that rule is that no support staff members with other skis should enter before the athletes go for testing after the finish,” explains Nilsson.
Taking responsibility for competence and testing in their own events
It is also the case that FIS centrally is only responsible for testing and enforcement at events at the World Cup level. However, the fluor ban is the same for FIS-sanctioned events at all levels, but national federations are responsible for competitions at lower levels.
Nilsson has observed that national federations have different conditions.
“In Norway and Sweden, we see that the national federations have very good control. They have acquired fluor testing equipment and ensured that enough people with FIS certification are trained to carry out testing at the arenas. It’s not the case everywhere,” says Nilsson.
Therefore, Ski Classics has acquired its own fluor tester and has arranged for several people with FIS certification in its own staff so that fluor testing can be carried out according to the regulations at all Ski Classics events.
In early November, Ski Classics organized its own course for Pro Teams. This way, they are sure that all teams have received the same information about what is required for cleaning and preparation, why the ban is being introduced, how it will be enforced in practice, and what sanctions and consequences apply.
“We see that there is very different competence around fluor and the fluor ban in different countries and environments. But now all 35 Pro Teams have received the same information, and we have provided training on how to avoid testing positive for fluor,” says Nilsson.
The fact that Ski Classics has its own equipment and certified inspectors also gives them even better opportunities to assist Pro Teams with information and training, especially in the beginning phase.
“Our ambition is that fluor should become a non-issue as quickly as possible and function in the same way as doping tests,” says Nilsson.
Before the first Pro Tour events in this year’s Ski Classics season, which take place in Bad Gastein, Austria, on December 9 and 10, Ski Classics has set up two full days where professional teams can come and test their skis on the testing equipment that will be used in Ski Classics competitions.
The inspectors will also be able to help teams with any problems, so they can ensure that athletes do not start with skis that result in a starting ban and disqualification.
“If any of the teams get red skis in the control measurement beforehand, we can help them find the source so they can figure out why they have a fluor reading,” says Nilsson, continuing:
“We believe that teams and athletes do not consciously want to cheat. What we see is that if you get red readings when you haven’t used fluor-containing products, it almost always means that you have brought fluor residues via old brushes or other prep equipment that has been used for fluor before.”
In that context, Nilsson emphasizes that it is important to read the packaging content carefully and only buy products marked “fluor-free” since it is still allowed to sell fluor-containing products in the EU until 2026. Also, be aware that fluor can also be found in waxes that are not developed to provide better glide.
From the 2023/24 season, a total fluor ban is introduced for all competitions. The International Ski and Snowboard Federation announced this in March 2023.
Both FIS and IBU have decided on a total ban on fluoride-containing products in competitions at all levels for several years. They did so in November 2019 and in early 2020, respectively.
The total fluor ban covers all forms of fluor. The ban applies to all disciplines and competition levels in both FIS and IBU: from the World Cup and international championships to all scheduled cross-country races, regional and local races organized by clubs affiliated with the national federations.
Since the ban was announced, IBU and FIS have been working to develop a handheld testing equipment to be used to check if fluor-containing wax has been used on skis at competition venues. The fluor ban should have been fully implemented from the 2021/22 season but was postponed because the testing equipment has not been reliable.
In 2020, the EU introduced a ban on long-chain fluor compounds in concentrations over 25 ppm (particles per million) because these pose a risk to health and the environment.
In November 2019, FIS decided on a total ban on products containing fluor, specifically long-chain fluor compounds of the C6 and C8 types, in FIS competitions at all levels. IBU adopted the same decision in the winter of 2020.
Fluor is used in ski waxes to provide better glide and thus greater speed. There has been much research, testing, and development in fluor-free alternatives, especially in recent years, and new fluor-free products are as good or better than traditional fluor-containing ones. However, in some conditions, fluor products can provide better glide than fluor-free alternatives. In this way, using fluor-containing products can give athletes an unfair competitive advantage.
In March 2023, both FIS and IBU decided that the total fluor ban would come into effect from the 2023/24 season.
The fluor ban will be enforced at the venues by testing athletes’ skis for fluor with a handheld testing equipment. If the testing equipment detects traces of fluor on three or more points on the ski, it will show red. Those who test positive for fluor are disqualified, and the decision cannot be appealed.
by INGEBORG SCHEVE/ANDRÉ SANTOS TRANSLATION
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