Friday, September 13, 2013

2013 NBMC and 2014 WBMC

Just this past weekend, the 3rd annual NBMC was held in New Orleans. A new face took top honors in the main event, Jeff Langum. You can see footage of the final here.

This article also features a small gallery of photos from the event.

Now on to the main point of my article.

In related (and somewhat more troubling) news, it was recently announced that the United States will host next year's world championships. This is an extremely controversial claim within the bearding community. Normally the World Beard and Moustache Championships are held every other year, with the 2013 event in Germany rapidly approaching, and the 2015 event already scheduled for Austria. However, in a surprising move which I have not yet seen much information about, another championship has been announced on the WBMC website for 2014 in Portland, Oregon.

This may be the sign of a final, fatal split within the competitive bearding community. The American Phil Olsen who runs the WBMC website, Beard Team USA, and the national championships is not part of the governing body that organizes the world championships. He has in fact had numerous run-ins with that organization (the World Beard and Moustache Association) over the years, and has made thinly-veiled threats in the past to basically dictate the future of the event via his control of the WMBC's online presence. It would appear at first glance that he has now made his move, as it were, by trying to establish and legitimize a world championship of his own based out of the United States rather than the event's historical base in Germany.

The way this manipulation of information plays out could prove to be really interesting from an Orwellian perspective, but mostly I hope it doesn't prove too damaging to the burgeoning beard competition community. It's possible new information will arise that shows these concerns to be unfounded. Maybe the WBMA simply decided to increase the frequency of the events, making them annual in response to the growing popularity of the "sport". As I already stated, a minimal amount of information is readily available at this time. My inclination at this point in time, however, is to believe that Olsen is attempting to use his position to take control over the world championships by spreading misinformation. The troubling thing is that when the press reports on this (and the mainstream media actually does briefly touch on these events) it will be doing so from a position of ignorance and simply spread the erroneous information most easily available. That will, in turn, create a kind of retroactive 3rd-party validation and cause the public at large to adopt the falsely created event as the "real" one.

Of course, one might pose the question of whether or not any of this matters to the health of the community itself. After all, if there are 1000 potential participants and 900 attend the "fake" event while only 100 attend the "real" event, hasn't the fake one now established legitimacy since it's the bigger event with more competition? Well, yes and no. "Yes" because, quite simply, the more competitors an event has, typically the better and more valid it becomes as a measure of individual accomplishment for the winners. "No" because, if an organizing body representing many nations holds an impartial contest in an agreed-upon location, the results are going to be far more fair than when an event is run by a single self-appointed individual with his own agenda and a demonstrable willingness to play dirty. At this point, Phil Olsen has shown himself to be just that kind of person. I've been following the competitive bearding scene since the last WBMC held on US soil, the Anchorage event in 2009, and in that time I've seen enough interviews, articles, and independent documentaries to convince me that the man is a power-hungry egomaniac who has a clear agenda and who wants to reshape the community around his own goals. Admittedly he's done more than anybody to grow and promote facial hair competitions in the USA, but he seems to think that that means the entire sport belongs to him.

Competitive bearding is in the early stages of a huge surge in popularity. While it will never be on the level of major sports, it is establishing an increasingly visible niche for itself. At this pivotal time in bearding's growth, this kind of selfish power struggle is one of the last things the community needs. I sincerely hope that I am overreacting, but I fear that the next few years could set competitive bearding on a crash course toward manipulated results and corrupted leadership that would be absolutely crippling.

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