Is competitive tree climbing a sport? Or is it a means to 'promote safe working practices, demonstrate innovations in equipment and techniques and provide industry recognition' for tree care workers? Can it be both?
Unfortunately there are no simple answers to these questions but to get started we should go back in history.
By 1995 the standing ISA President, Ken Meyer, recognized tree climbing comps as a form of entertainment when he promoted 'internationalization' of the event.
Ken's vision of 'entertainment value' suggests there was an audience.
But this poses yet another question: is the TCC audience made up of working arborists or does it include members of the public.
Judging by the numbers watching the recent ITCC in Parramata, the public are now well and truly represented in the audience. Attention from mainstream media is yet another indicator of the public's interest in such activities.
Ask any competitive tree climber and they will tell you they are sportsmen (and women).
But ask your average tree worker if the tree climbing comps represent their working day and the answer will be negative.
These opposing dynamics pose both an opportunity and a threat to the ITCC Rules Committee. Should the committee promote the entertainment value of the comps and let education play a secondary role or should (entertaining) industry education be the primary objective?
Perhaps a lesson can be taken from other work-based 'sports'.
Sheep shearing, for example (don't laugh), can be considered both a sport and a career.
As a 'sport' sheep shearing attracts light-hearted interest from the general public yet it has a huge following within its own industry. No doubt, sheep shearing competitions provide educational and entertainment value to their audience but there is limited long term appeal for development and growth within the public sector.
In Treetools opinion, using the tree climbing comps purely for industry-centric education would limit development in the sport of tree climbing long term.
It is public appeal and the 'entertainment value' Ken Meyer alluded to back in 1995, that will provide the life blood for the future of the tree climbing comps.
And in the process truly make tree climbing a 'sport' in its own right.