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Olympic Games: Focus on the five new sports to be introduced to the Olympic Games at the Tokyo 2020 Games

Five new sports will be introduced to the Olympic Games at the Tokyo 2020 Games. The additions are part of the International Olympic Committee’s Agenda 2020 strategy – which sets to “secure the future of the Olympic Games” by attracting a new, younger audience

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 11 Jul 2016 issue 124
Surfing will all be present at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games / Matt masin / pa
Surfing will all be present at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games/ Matt masin / pa

When International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach launched Agenda 2020 – a “strategic roadmap” for the future of the Olympic movement – in 2014, his message to the Olympic movement was ‘change or be changed’. “As the role and relevance of sport in society continues to grow, so do the expectations of the public,” he added.

While Agenda 2020’s main focuses are on reforming the IOC, improving governance and seeking to root out corruption and doping, the plans also lay out a strategy to make sport more attractive to a younger generation. At the heart of Agenda 2020 is a strategy to modernise the Olympic Games and move from a sport-based to an event-based programme.

In practice, this means that the IOC is opening the door to single events from new sports being added to the programme, in place of formats of more traditional sports which are considered outdated. The IOC is setting out to do this by having “regular reviews of the programme” and allowing more than 28 sports to be featured in future Games.

NEW ENTRIES
Five new sports – karate, climbing, baseball and softball, surfing and skateboarding – will be voted in to become Olympic sports at the 129th IOC Session, to be held in Rio in August. All five will make an appearance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Three of the sports on the list could be classed as “adrenaline sports” and follow the IOC’s strategy to become more youth-focused.

“We have to find a way of being able to introduce new sports that are relevant to young people,” says John Coates, IOC vice president – and adds that events such as the Youth Olympic Games can be useful in discovering (and trying out) new sports which could eventually be added onto the full Olympic programme.

“I was very impressed by the new sports presented at the Sports Lab during the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014 – and particularly the culture of those athletes taking part,” he says. “We just have to be flexible to include new events and I think the recommendations contained in Olympic Agenda 2020 will help us do that.”

One of the sports featured at Nanjing was sports climbing which has since been selected for Tokyo. A relatively new sport, it has experienced rapid growth globally, especially in urban settings, with the advent of climbing centres and climbing walls being added at large retail parks.

“For us, being invited to take part at the Youth Olympics was a turning point for our hopes of Olympic inclusion,” says Marco Solaris, president of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC).

“It was the first time in history that the Olympic family had the opportunity to see what competitive climbing looked like as a sport. It was important because for many, climbing still meant going up Mount Everest – something you’d need a mountain for.

“With the help of the Chinese climbing federation we erected a fantastic wall and accompanied it with an exhibition on climbing, to show what the sport is all about – and people were impressed.”

FOCUS ON THE YOUNG
Another of the five sports which is considered youth-focused is skateboarding. Plans for Tokyo will see two separate events – called Street and Park – being featured for both women and men. The total estimated number of participating skateboarding athletes will be 80, with an equal gender split. As with climbing, skateboarding can thank its success on having impressed IOC at Nanjing.

“Tokyo will mark an important milestone in skateboarding’s Olympic history, which started with a first Olympic experience at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing,” says Gary Ream, president of the International Skateboarding Federation (ISF).

“The decision to include us at Tokyo recognises the growth and popularity of skateboarding, and we appreciate that the IOC has made it possible for new sports to be added to the Games. The ISF and the skateboarding community are ready, equipped and well positioned to help make the first Olympic appearance of skateboarding an amazing one for skaters and fans alike.”

While the ISF is actively promoting skateboarding as a sport, there are some within the skate fraternity who are worried that skateboarding should never be for competition – and that being an Olympic sport might endanger the ethos of the activity as being “counterculture”.

Those fears are allayed by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, who says the two – the recognition of skateboading as a sport and its nonconformist ideals – can coexist. “This is not only a great opportunity for our sport and the skaters, but also for the Games,” he says.

“It is now more important than ever to preserve the unique culture of skateboarding which makes our sport so appealing and relevant. I firmly believe that skateboarding’s interests can be best protected by skateboarders themselves. The ISF is doing an excellent job of including representatives from all corners of the skate community to make sure we are preserving our authenticity.”

Surfing is another sport with a strong youth culture. While the exact format of the surfing competition is to be decided at Tokyo – it is unclear whether it will take place in a “wave pool” or out on the ocean – the sport is ready for the big stage. “This is a wonderful moment for our sport and for the global Surfing family,” says Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association (ISA).

“Our relationship with the IOC and inclusion in the Olympic Games has been a strategic priority for the ISA for many years and we are thrilled that we are now realising our Olympic dream.  Surfing has incredible youth appeal and a unique culture that would offer huge value to the Olympic movement.”

For IOC, all five sports tick the box when it comes to its Agenda 2020 priorities. “The five sports offer a key focus on youth, which is at the heart of the Games vision for Tokyo 2020,” says Bach.

“They represent a combination of well-established and emerging sports with significant popularity in Japan and beyond. They include team sports and individual sports; indoor sports and outdoor sports; and ‘urban’ sports with a strong appeal to youth.”

Climbing

Marco Solaris
Marco Solaris
Marco Solaris,

President ,

International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC)


How will climbing benefit from being an Olympic sport?
National federations which currently suffer from climbing not being an Olympic sport will now be given the political influence, power, and recognition they need to be able to talk to their national olympic committees. In some cases it could transform the sport of climbing in those countries.

We also expect it to create a boom in new national federations in countries which currently don’t have one. We estimate that between 20 and 25 new countries will join the IFSC – as we currently limit membership to those countries which have a national federation.

As for IFSC as an organisation, it will mean that we will be “legitimate” in our approaches with the IOC – and will be able to work closer together with it in order to grow the sport around the world.

Karate

Terry Connell
Terry Connell
Terry Connell ,

President ,

British Karate Federation


How will karate benefit frombeing an Olympic sport?
In the short term it will have an impact on the organisational side of things, as national federations will become members of the Olympic family and therefore need to meet the IOC’s governance requirements.

In the UK, it will have a massive impact because all the “dissident” groups outside the official Karate body (British Karate Federation, BKF) will probably feel pressure from their membership to align themselves to the BKF – in order to give their members an opportunity to become Olympians. And we very much welcome that.

Also, the likes of the British Olympic Association will take an interest in what we do and help drive forward a more professional and financially stronger BKF. It is likely that we will see professional people appointed to the BKF board to help steer it.

As for grassroots, I don’t think there will be an immediate impact in participation figures. That will come in as a drip feed over the coming years, as being an Olympic sport will further increase the profile of karate.

Baseball and softball

John Boyd
John Boyd
John Boyd,

CEO ,

BaseballSoftballUK


How will soft/baseball benefit from being an Olympic sport?
We quite regularly have to answer the question “are you an Olympic sport” from people who first come in contact with baseball or softball. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can change people’s perception.

Globally, it will have a positive effect on all the national federations as most countries take the view that if you’re an Olympic sport, you get government funding towards your infrastructure and towards elite pathways in order to have a shot at getting to the Olympics.

While it probably won’t lead to countries which currently don’t have a federation setting up national associations from scratch, it will probably lead to growth of investments in the more established countries.

For us in the UK, I think the effect of being an Olympic sport will depend on the interpretation of UK Sport’s ‘no compromise approach’. Whether there is recognition that having a Team GB of baseball at the Olympics is a good thing for the sport even if we are not into win it.

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