Olympic Games changer: Surf's up in Tokyo

Olympic Games changer: Surf's up in Tokyo

Karate, Climbing, Skateboarding, Baseball/Softball and Surfing added to the programme

The International Olympic Committee approved five new sports for the Tokyo Games in 2020, bringing back some sports and adding new ones to appeal to a younger audience.

Baseball and softball, which are considered one sport, make their return for the first time since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The IOC also approved karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.

Athletes can be shooting the curl in Tokyo.

The decision marks a shift for the Olympics, with skateboarding and sport climbing expecting their venues to be used by the public between competitions. Surfing would include a festival with music around its competition.

“We have a real vision around what these new sports will add to the mix for Tokyo 2020, and it's a vision that isn't just limited to these five sports but what we want the Olympic programme to do, what we want sport to be in the future of the Olympic Games," said Kit McConnell, the IOC’s sports director. "In many ways, the sports that have come in signal a vision for how we want to present sport and how we want to use sport to engage at future Olympic Games."

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Amid that, concerns remained about sustainability of the sports and whether the best players - particularly in baseball - would be available to compete in the Games.

Japan is very enthusiastic about baseball.

The decision comes as a first under Agenda 2020, a set of recommendations meant to make bidding for and hosting the Games more affordable and sustainable. It allows host cities to propose new sports for their Olympics, meaning the inclusion of the five sports is not binding for future Games.

The decision will add 18 events and 474 athletes across the five sports. All but baseball and softball will have equal numbers of men and women. Those sports will have the same number of teams but fewer female athletes as softball teams have 15 players and baseball teams have 24.

The IOC has focused on events meant to draw younger viewers, adding BMX riding in Beijing. It has seen snowboarding become one of its most popular winter sports since adding that in 1998.

"We want to take sport to the youth," IOC President Thomas Bach said. "With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them."

Skateboarding trucks into the Games.

That makes the addition of skateboarding a perfect fit, said Gary Ream, president of the International Skateboarding Federation (ISF). Snowboarding has been one of the Olympics’ most successful additions, with new events added in three Games including the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

But the sport maintains an uneasy relationship with the Olympics, seeking its benefits but generally rejecting a more mainstream sporting culture.

Ream doesn't think skateboarding will have as difficult of a time accepting, and being accepted, by the Olympics. 

Karate packs a punch in Tokyo.

The addition of the sports will not affect athlete or quota spots. It also won't necessarily apply to future Olympics, meaning some or all of the sports could be a one-off event of sorts if the city chosen for the 2024 Olympics does not select them.

The IOC will choose between Los Angeles, Paris, Budapest and Rome in September 2017.

Like skateboarding, surfing faces resistance in its own community in acceptance of the event in the Olympics. Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association, said that the inclusion of a music festival in conjunction with the event would make it more appealing.

Surfing could face challenges in remaining in the Games beyond Tokyo because of the nature of the sport. Organisers have committed to competing in the ocean, although Aguerre thinks manmade wave technology could be ready in time for the 2024 Olympics.

Climbing is sure to appeal to a younger crowd.

He also noted that Agenda 2020 would allow for a multi-country bid, possibly accommodating a surfing venue.

“We think our appeal is not just to Tokyo. We think that surfing appeals globally, and in that sense, our focus will be in making our appearance in the Olympic Games very memorable,” he said.

“We’re gonna give the best impression. We’re gonna do it the right way. And we’re very excited that the IOC has embraced the concept of a beach surf festival.”

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Olympics: 5 new sports added for Tokyo 2020


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