Open Discussion regarding the Upcoming BMC AGM MoNC

Recently there has been an open discussion between Sir Chris Bonington and Doug Scott CBE regarding the MoNC being raised at the BMC AGM.

Doug’s says:

“With the AC meeting on Saturday and the BMC AGM on the 22nd.April in mind it may be that CC members will find the contents of this open letter of interest.The BMC is clearly at a crossroads where the opportunity for change must be taken.We must grasp this nettle now.”

First Chris’s words:

Dear All,

Having followed the e mail streams – I believe we can still avoid this divisive and damaging process

I appeal to Bob, Doug and Dennis to withdraw their motion of censure.

To be aware of Tony Grieve’s perceptive comments, to listen to Pat Littlejohn’s appeal for more discussion.

I was in the West Way Climbing Centre in London a couple of nights ago and it was a delight to see that range of people from the age of four to white haired characters like me getting so much enjoyment and fulfilment from a couple of hours or so, not just under the same roof but on neighbouring panels. I wondered what those youngsters would be doing in the future. Quite a few might, perhaps even more, might become competition climbers – as indeed did Catherine Destivelle, Leo Houlding and many of the top competition climbers who now are deep into trad/adventure climbing at the very highest and committing levels. Many will get outside or explore other activities and some might never go beyond the Westway.

Lets keep our broad, inclusive church. Lets have that forward looking review that we all seem to agree is needed


Doug’s Reply:

Dear Chris

I read with interest your open letter appealing to Bob, Dennis and myself to withdraw the motion of censure. I note that you wrote this having followed an Email stream of letters from others alarmed at the thought of this motion and also after you had something of an Epiphany at the Westway Climbing Centre. That of course is where we last climbed together and where I was again last week. You seem to be inferring that Bob, Dennis and myself are against indoor climbing and indoor competition climbing. I can assure you that I shall be there watching our young competition climbers on the TV over in Tokyo at the next Olympics and cheering them on as I will our gymnasts and other Olympic competitors. I mention this so I don’t appear alienated from the “inclusive church” you write about. Don’t forget it was Dennis who actually organised the first indoor climbing competition in the UK back in the 80s. It will only confuse the issue to link competition climbing and the Olympics with this motion of censure of the BMC Executive. By the way, the motion of censure is, of course, Bob Pettigrew’s initiative supported by not just Dennis and myself but 30 other recorded names altogether and thousands of others who are concerned at the present state of the BMC and the direction it is taking.

I am surprised at the depth of feeling and the extreme alarm the motion has engendered even amongst seasoned volunteers of the AC, CC and of course, the BMC. Every organisation goes through a cycle whereby the origins and reasons for it are obscured by the passage of time and the inevitable distortion of the original pure impulse that always happens, driven by the same old drivers – the quest for fame and fortune, status and power. It would seem there is no exception to this rule. All great religions, all paths to self-knowledge, every spontaneous gathering of like minded people to preserve a much valued idea, all lose momentum and end up doing the opposite of what was first intended but still retaining the original name – the classic of course is Christianity itself that moved on from “loving thy neighbour as thyself” to launching the Crusades, instigating the Inquisition and more recently of priests abusing small children.

The BMC, as with all social life, has deviated from the direction set out in the beginning. The BMC was set up to represent a common interest in the 1940s when climbing was becoming ever more popular with high wages and longer holidays and also the stimulus of the successful of Everest. The BMC was never seen as a single, national club and in fact the founders talked openly of avoiding the way climbing had evolved on the Continent. The BMC was seen as an “umbrella” body representing the collective interests of its members and never a governing body. There were no government grants or paid staff, no-one even charged expenses. The hard-working Hon Secretaries were hugely supported by volunteers who put in vast amounts of time voluntarily – such names as Rawlinson, Starkey, Solari and Nea Morin amongst many others. At an early committee meeting in March 1945 it was reaffirmed there should be no publicity given to mountaineering and popularisation of it should be avoided.

In 1966 John Hunt and Hilary Sinclair met with Walter Winterbottom of the newly formed Sports Council that had been set up to encourage more activity in sport. The Sports Council requested the BMC to submit a five year plan with expenditure and wanted the BMC to open up to individual members. Seeing the writing on the wall the BMC representatives stressed that, unlike competitive sports, the BMC was not and never would be a governing body but would always remain a representative body. This ethic, peculiar to climbing, was reinforced during subsequent years and appreciated by the Sports Council thanks to sensitive diplomacy and eternal vigilance.

Fifty years on exactly, for all to see, the current Executive of the BMC lost their way, caving in to government pressure to re-brand and to be match fit to become more commercial without reference to the membership – a clear reversal from representation to out and out governance.

As I have pointed out these situations are not unique in organisations. The Royal Geographical Society a few years ago, lost their way and the Beagle Campaign was instigated that highlighted the problems. It was the new President Michael Palin, who was able to reconcile the differences between the executive and the members and help put the RGS back on a track that appealed to most of the membership.

The problems facing the BMC are much bigger than those of the RGS and therefore require a major review that must be entirely independent. The BMC, AC, CC, Rucksack Club and just about everyone else who has looked into it agrees that a review is necessary. The President of the BMC in his statement [10/03/2017] said that a “far reaching, independent review was instigated by the national council on 11 February 2017 before the no-confidence motion was filed.” Apart from this being somewhat disingenuous since the executive knew long before 11 February of the motion, how independent will this review be when, even before the President put out his statement, the CEO was asking climbers to take part in the review group. Naturally we will all be thinking of asking turkeys to vote for Christmas or not!

I see that the AC, whilst encouraging members to support a review of the BMC, have not actually stated that it should be fully independent. In regard to the AC’s attitude to the motion of no confidence, it does seem a bit alarmist in suggesting that if the motion was to succeed it would lead to a year of chaos before a new executive could take over. This opinion is shared by other respected clubs and their officers who forget that the graveyards are full of those we once thought were indispensable. Surely an organisation of 80K plus members can more quickly find suitable replacements for those who have to step aside?

I was not that impressed with Martin Wragg’s account of the situation, who like Rehan Siddiqui, has been asked by the CEO and his executive to defend the status quo. He does, at least, acknowledge that “unrelated governance issues have been identified by the executive”. He has, however, failed to grasp as Steve Town has pointed out, that although the BMC has done nothing wrong legally, “he totally misses the point that the BMC has not so much ‘drifted away’ from both the intentions of its founders and the interests of the great majority of its members, it has “willfully” charged away in a direction that has little regard as to why people go to the hills.” Steve, in relation to Brian Smith’s led paper on engaging with hill walkers, also makes the point that at the same time as the BMC was pushing the idea of “Climb Britain” it was also planning to attract some of the 2.4 million hill walkers into the BMC. So the BMC, it would seem, to survive must for ever increase its status and power – at one end of the spectrum from competition climbing and at the other from inducing everyone that intends to venture onto an incline into the organisation.

Unfortunately I have no time to continue as I have to drive to Andover where I am doing a lecture for CAN this evening. Still, I hope I have made the point that there has been a considerable drift in the last year or so away from representing the membership of the BMC. There is probably no need for me to go over old ground re the lack of transparency with regard to funding e.g. it wasn’t apparently £25,000 of tax payers’ money from Sport England that went into making the BMC match fit to go more commercial but £75,400 according to the BMC and Martin Wragg’s own figures.

You can gather from the above that I will continue to support the motion of no confidence in the BMC’s executive that was prompted by the attitude of the CEO of the BMC to the need for repairs at the Harrison Rock complex of ablution block and car park who unfortunately said it wasn’t his or the BMC’s job to fix lavatories. I notice that at the AC dinner Rehan Siddiqui could not see that this is but a symptom of the wider malaise when he said that “since the ablution block has been fixed there is no problem”. I will attach Bob’s report about this for your interest.

There have been some positive steps taken towards sorting out the problems between UIAA and IFSC thanks to Bob, Dennis and myself prompting Nick Colton to contact the UIAA’s Executive and Management Committee when in Sheffield earlier this month. According to one national council member the BMC’s competition climbing rep cowered away from confrontation with IFSC over its wild assertions that it represents all recreational climbers, is prepared to have competition climbers on natural surfaces and not to mention the fact that IFSC hi-jacked the name Sport Climbing from sport climbing. This failure was put down to the head long rush towards competition climbing and the Olympics. Hopefully an independent review will also redress this situation.

Nick did a good job there as he and the majority of the BMC executive and volunteers have done in many other areas that have helped to preserve the best traditions of mountaineering for future generations.

Look forward to seeing you soon,

Kind regards


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2 comments on “Open Discussion regarding the Upcoming BMC AGM MoNC
  1. avatar Frank Cannings says:

    Perhaps now best settled by medieval means: Knight versus Commander in a jousting contest – or ice axes at Dawn?

  2. avatar Mark Kemball says:

    Given the date, I would like to think this was in jest, sadly it’s not. Words fail me in attempting to describe the folly of this MoNC which Doug seems to consider to be a motion of censure. If he doesn’t understand the serios difference between the two, he should not be proposing it.