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  • OpEd: New Sports Disrupt Olympic Program


    03/01/19

    (ATR) A wave of new sports is about to sweep over the Olympics across the next 10 years.

    Tony Hawk shows his skills during Buenos Aires 2018 (ATR)
    In an age when disruptors are saluted for the change they bring, the Olympic world has invited its own group of disruptors to shake things up.

    Skateboard, surfing and climbing are now likely to figure into the next three Olympics. Breaking could debut in Paris 2024. The gambit for the IOC is winning a new generation of Olympic fans, a turn to youth.

    But success may force the IOC to make some tough decisions in the years ahead.

    The new entries are the result of the IOC policy that lets host cities pick sports unique or popular to the locale. Tokyo 2020 selected skateboard and surfing along with karate and baseball/softball. Paris has nominated the first three of those with breaking, which had an Olympics debut at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

    Breaking made its Olympic debut at the Buenos Aires YOG (ATR)
    The new sports are an addition to the 28 “official” ones on the Olympic program, from athletics to wrestling, the mainstays of the Games. A privileged group, the 28 share the IOC TV revenues from the Games, about $540 million from Rio. The number to divide from Tokyo will probably be higher.

    For the top tier federations, athletics, gymnastics and swimming, the share is $47 million. The low end payout is $10 million for modern pentathlon, golf and rugby. In between are the other sports receiving $14 million to $22 million.

    The take for the newbies? Zero.

    The IOC considers that the exposure and publicity for these new sports is sufficient reward for now. But what was to be a one-off appearance at the Games is now turning into something more.

    Surfing will debut in Tokyo 2020 (ISA/Chris Grant)
    It seems likely that surfing, with a California birthright, would be part of LA 2028. Skateboarding is surfing’s land-based progeny, born in Southern California. Sport climbing thrives in California. Breaking, part of American culture, seems a natural fit for LA, too. And it would seem out of place not to have the bat and ball sports of baseball and softball.

    With that kind of lineup, the IOC may face a reckoning in three years when Los Angeles decides the extra sports it will invite.

    No longer novelty sports after three Games in a row, the sports and their federations probably should also be served a share of the Olympic revenue pie.

    At a minimum these new sports might each get $10 million or more if properly compensated for their Olympic appearances.

    That’s maybe another $50 million or so from the Olympic treasury. A major sum but hardly bank-busting for the IOC.

    For these sports the money would be a huge jolt for worldwide development. And in many countries a spot on the Olympic program means government funding for national programs.

    Sport climbing was part of the Nanjing 2014 Sports Lab (IOC)
    A tougher decision for IOC policymakers may be the question of whether the new sports should replace underperformers among the existing 28. Besides the need to attract youth, the IOC is also working hard to reduce the complexity and cost of staging the Olympics. An ungainly sports program with a growing roster of new sports will only make it more difficult to find host cities willing to shoulder the logistics burden.

    The IOC Program Commission may talk about these issues when it meets this week in Lausanne. But any decisive changes are still some time from now and will happen under a new chair for the commission. After leading the Program Commission since 1998, Franco Carraro of Italy retires from the IOC this year. This next meeting is among the last he will chair.

    The just published study on the future of international sport by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations warns its 28 members that the world is changing. Ignore the change at your peril, says the report. Stalwarts on the Olympic program, even those that were part of the first modern games in 1896, may no longer enjoy protected status as heritage sports.

    While there has been some talk that Esport might help the IOC seize the attention of youth, philosophical issues remain that will probably keep it as a sideshow event at the Olympics.

    So make room for surfing, skateboard and climbing. Get ready for head spinning breaking gold medalists.

    The new kids on the block have arrived. The old gang should watch out.

    Reported by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.
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