GB Talks to IFSC President Marco Scolaris

Read our interview with Marcos Scolaris on his personal climbing journey, the Olympics and competition climbing in Africa...

GoodBETA recently had the honour of talking with Marco Scolaris – climber, photographer and founder & president of the International Federation of Sport Climbing – about the importance of competition in climbing, how the Olympics changed the game, and how we can grow competition climbing in Africa.

Born in Turin, Italy, Marco has had a significant impact on both Italian competition climbing and competitive climbing on a global scale. In 1988 he became an international judge for UIAA Climbing, and founded the Federazione Arrampicata Sportiva Italiana (Italian Federation of Sport Climbing) which later became a member federation of the Italian National Olympic Committee. Following this, he would go on to act as president of the UIAA Commission for Competition Climbing, found the UIAA Council for Competition Climbing, and eventually establish the International Federation of Sport Climbing with Pascal Mouche in 2007.


Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a climber?

As far as I remember, I was climbing any rock I could find since I was a child. I spent summers and weekends in the mountains with my family; the vertical world is in my DNA.

What is your preferred climbing discipline?

Bouldering was my preferred discipline: it is pristine, pure and magic. However, in my later years – the past couple of decades – I’ve started really enjoying moving on multi-pitch routes.

Have you climbed in South Africa? If so, where?

Unfortunately, not (yet…).

What do you think is the value of competition in sport?

Competition is a fundamental part of our lives and offers a great ground for progress and growth. In sport – simplifying it a lot – it is the key to motivating adolescents to remain active when they become adults.

Why have you dedicated your life to growing sport climbing?

For a simple reason: if climbing has changed my life so much for the better, why should it not do the same for others?


How would you describe the IFSC’s mission in one sentence?

To make the world a better place through climbing.

How do you think the IFSC is doing in its mission?

Pretty well, although I have the feeling that we need more maturity in several areas of our organisation and our activities

How has climbing’s inclusion in the Olympics changed the sport?

The spirit of climbing and its values are untouched, and I believe they can remain as such. For the future, however, it will depend a lot on individuals who will manage the sport, and on their maturity and skills.

Did the IFSC have any input on the Olympic climbing format?

From the beginning, it was clearly said that at our first appearance in the Games we would have had one medal for men and one for women. The question was whether to leave one or two disciplines behind or propose all of them, with the goal of having three separate medals for three separate disciplnes one day. Knowing that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted to have Speed, we decided to go for a compromise and create something that did not exist before: a combined format with all of our three disciplines

How do you think the proposed format for the 2024 Olympics (with Speed separated from Boulder and Lead) will change the competition?

It goes in the direction we wanted and proves that the decision taken was the right one. This year we will discuss Los Angeles 2028 with the IOC and the LA Organizing Committee.


As far as I understand, just four African countries are IFSC members? How can we get more African countries and climbers involved in the IFSC and competition climbing?

It is a process that will require time. We need to start from the current member federations and approach other countries; if possible, through their National Olympic Committees. I think Africa is a continent full of opportunities in its diversity.

The IFSC website lists one of its guiding values as “low cost”. With many African countries (and sometimes African climbers themselves) not having adequate funds to attend competitions and train on an international level, how do you think we can grow the competitive climbing scene in Africa?

As said above, the existing IFSC members should lead the long process of growth. Resources might be available for different projects and the IFSC could help with approaching the IOC to have access to Olympic Solidarity funds. The real issue, today, is the lack of (human) resources inside the IFSC itself. The sport has grown so fast, that the organisation is challenged every day and the IFSC Team is called to move beyond its possibilities. 

What advice would you give to athletes in Africa who dream of climbing competitively on an international stage?

Well, they are doing the best sport in the world, and they have to prove the climbers’ spirit: follow your dreams and never give up! If their intention is to compete, then they start climbing together, perhaps create an association, speak with one voice and eventually work with their national federation, or create it, if their country does not have one.

A huge thank you to Marco for speaking with us and sharing his insight – here’s to growing African climbing together with the IFSC!