An interview with UIAA President Peter Muir

Featured, General Assembly, Membership
Peter Muir addresses delegates at the 2022 UIAA General Assembly

The 2023 UIAA General Assembly in Trabzon marks the start of Peter Muir’s fourth year as UIAA President. Following his election in 2020 during the UIAA’s first ever online GA, a situation repeated for the meeting in 2021, last year was his first opportunity to address the UIAA membership in person as President, fittingly in his home country of Canada. In this interview, Peter reflects on the progress made during the last three years and what members can expect both at the 2023 GA and throughout the upcoming months.

…on becoming President of the UIAA…

I’ve been involved in the mountaineering community for a long time starting in the mid to late 1980s with the local section of the Alpine Club. It’s ironic that when I became national President of the Alpine Club of Canada and then President of the UIAA people said you must be a very good climber and I said no actually my climbing is average at best! For me, climbing is fun. Mostly I find the climbing community very engaging and interesting and have always been struck by its inherent solidarity. Mountain organisations are by nature helpful, they help the community.

…on organisational changes…

I felt at the time of my election, that the UIAA was struggling a bit organisationally with communication between its various levels. For example, there was a disconnect between what the Management Committee expected of the Commissions and what the Commissions expected of the Management Committee. We needed to conduct a review of this relationship to better reflect what the Articles of Association expected. It’s not directional one way or the other, it’s both directional and consultative. There has been some great progress here and a much clearer direction has emerged. I think generally we have made the UIAA more relevant, more active. The review of the Commissions, led by a number of EB members, has borne fruit. Communication across all levels, it’s coming together.

…on progress made during the pandemic…

I’m actually quite proud of the progress we made during Covid. We were able to meet more frequently and engage new and more people. Working online is not as effective as in person but you can meet more regularly, set more goals and monitor progress. I am proud of the way the UIAA adapted, we kept things together without incurring any significant fiscal impact.

…on increasing membership…

I’ve never been there, but I understand that they have some pretty decent mountains in South America! It didn’t make sense to me from a mountaineering perspective why so few of the countries were not members of the UIAA. The last few years online communication has enabled people to engage in different ways, interact more regularly and not feel cut off. I’m pleased with the way South America membership has grown with the arrival of Ecuador and Peru and potentially more to follow. I still think there’s room for opportunity there. The next objective is definitely to increase representation in Africa and that’s going to be a challenge. We are encouraged by the collaboration being made at a continental level.

I’m pleased by the way federations in Middle East are showing increased interest. Another key moment was the return of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI). That was a major step, the world of mountaineering needed their presence.

I am also very happy to have witnessed the solidarity between our members particularly when we’ve needed to support certain members during difficult times. Looking at the upcoming GA in Trabzon, it will be great to see such a diverse geographical spread of members present and hopefully welcome three new members.

We have also developed the relationship with the IFSC (Sport Climbing) and ISMF (Ski Mountaineering). Our message on key global topics needs to be aligned. I think all three federations have done a great job here particularly the recent IFSC stance on supporting human rights.

…on the General Assembly in 2023…

There will be some practical governance type issues that we have to deal with. We are going to take some first steps at updating the AoAs which have served us well but need reviewing to more fit the current landscape. One of the most important aspects of the GA will be the Climate Change Summit where we can continue to understand how the UIAA can help its members and what the members want and expect from us. We will also have an initial discussion on the evolution of the Strategic Plan.

A key part of this GA will be the marketplace where Commissions have more time to explain the work they are doing and to network more closely with delegates. Here common ground and projects of mutual interest can be developed. This can only be a good thing.

…on progress in the Safety Pillar…

Our Safety Commission continues to produce excellent work with significant commitment from the UIAA in terms of resources. It is important that the message is amplified about what the UIAA does and we call on our members to support this.

When climbers purchase UIAA certified gear, all the money is invested directly back into mountaineering. It is a constant cycle of developing standards to improve climber safety and ultimately reduce accidents. In parallel, our Medical Commission continues to deliver first-class papers with the updates to advice for women and children to be released shortly. Our message to members is that these safety resources are available for them to use and share with their community. The Safety Label video is a perfect example. This is a compelling and important piece of content and needs to be shared.

…on Competition Ice Climbing…

From the beginning, I knew that ice climbing was going to be a challenge and one of the reasons that I got more actively involved was because I saw the struggles going on. There has been a lot we couldn’t have anticipated including the ban on Russian athletes. Furthermore, partly due to the pandemic, an active organiser like China moved away. I think it is important we bring the Chinese back as hosts and as participants.

The Ice Climbing Governance Group is doing a lot of good work. We need to fundamentally look at the way we’re organising the sport. Events need to have more of a grassroots orientation to begin with. We need to look at the quality of smaller and local events, develop more pathways for athletes and make it more accessible. The fact is that ice climbing is not as accessible as sport climbing due to many factors, including needing more gear and of course ice. The members who can realistically participate in ice climbing need to step up and participate. People are interested but they need a clearer pathway to get in, perhaps even through organisations who are not yet strictly members of the UIAA. The Olympic dream remains alive but there’s a lot to do before that can become a reality.

…on ensuring projects are fully developed…

As an EB we have worked at being more responsible in in reviewing projects. Before we commit to them, we need to make sure we can follow through. I’m not sure that in the past we have applied enough rigour to assessing both what a project was going to be, where it was going to go and what it was going to accomplish. The lesson that I’ve learned is that we need to be more cautious, more deliberative on what projects we’re going to undertake. We have to be committed to see them through to their conclusion. There are some new projects in development which we are dedicated to getting right such as the revised Environmental Guidelines and Objectives as well as the work being done on near misses and accident reporting.

…on Climate Change…

With the Climate Change Taskforce, we’ve started to refine how we’re going to go about this by forming small but key focus working groups within the Climate Change Taskforce. One of them is advocacy. Another one is organising Climate Change Summits, and that really is where we see getting back direct information to and from our members. One of the key things that I think we need to do is continue to develop our Carbon Footprint Reports and align them with our budget. All budgets are economically or fiscally based, and that, to me, is irresponsible because it doesn’t take into account the carbon consequences of what you’re doing. For me, during these first couple of years of our work in climate change, it is important to involve our members, but more importantly that we get our own house in order.

In terms of policy, creating mountaineering does and don’ts is very difficult because you need to reconcile many different views and different situations in different parts of the world. The one thing that we have to concentrate on is the sport aspect. We are mountaineers first and foremost. We’re not an environmental organisation. We’re not even a safety organisation. Those two things that supplement what we are.

…on the relevance of the UIAA globally…

We are heading in the right direction. Climbing and mountaineering are personal challenges and essential to the human condition. Left to their own devices, they wander off into different directions and this can have unfortunate consequences as we have recently seen on some of the high mountains of the world.

Our role is more about ethics than regulations. Tragic or ugly events leading to negative publicity doesn’t just affect mountaineering but also the wider perception of mountaineering and mountaineers. When we see things which are not right or not fair, we need to act. There is room for improvement, particularly in developing our messages, our position and making them more clearly communicated. But progress here, notably through the Mountaineering Commission, is impressive.

Final reflections

Overall, I’m quite proud of our three-year progress. And I’m very thankful for the EB, MC and commissions for their commitment and collegiality. We will continue the course through 2024 and I encourage all members to come along as and when you can. We are all looking forward to our overdue visit to Trabzon; thanks to our very patient TDF hosts. GAs are wonderful opportunities to gather and explore. All member federations should take the opportunity to showcase their federations and countries so why not apply to host?

To discover more about the 2023 UIAA General Assembly click here.