New sports to give games a facelift

Griffin Colapinto of the US gets air before winning his men's heat during the first round of the US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach, California on July 25, 2016.
Griffin Colapinto of the US gets air before winning his men's heat during the first round of the US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach, California on July 25, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Surfing chief says his sport will bring youth-focused X-factor to 2020 Games as modernisation takes hold

RIO DE JANEIRO • International Surfing Association president Fernando Aguerre believes surfing's inclusion in the Olympics programme will give the Summer Games an X-factor.

"This is a game-changing moment for surfing," he said after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the sport's addition alongside karate, baseball/softball, sport climbing and skateboarding to the 2020 Tokyo Games.

"With its unique and modern blend of sport performance, style and youth culture, surfing will help deliver something special to the Games."

Following decades of roughly maintaining the status quo until the reintroduction of golf and rugby for Rio, a further five sports will feature in the next Olympics.

IOC members unanimously agreed to introduce the package of sports, a decision that had been widely expected amid hopes of increasing the Olympics' appeal to younger audiences.

Baseball was last included in the Olympics at Beijing in 2008 but the four other sports are all new to the Games.

Appealing to new generations has now become a preoccupation of Olympics organisers as audiences splinter and the appeal of traditional sports like athletics and swimming wanes.

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, who insisted this week that the Russian doping crisis had not harmed the Olympics, said: "We want to take sport to the youth. 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.

BRINGING THE GAMES UP TO DATE

With its unique and modern blend of sport performance, style and youth culture, surfing will help deliver something special to the Games.

FERNANDO AGUERRE, president of the International Surfing Association

"The five sports are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events that are popular in Japan and will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games."

USHERING IN THE FIVE

The five sports are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events that are popular in Japan and will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games.

THOMAS BACH, president of the International Olympic Committee.

Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori, speaking at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, pledged to urge top athletes to compete in Japan.

APPEALING TO A NEW GENERATION

The inclusion of the package of new sports will afford young athletes the chance of a lifetime to realise their dreams of competing in the Olympic Games.

YOSHIRO MORI, head of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics organising committee.

"The inclusion of the package of new sports will afford young athletes the chance of a lifetime to realise their dreams of competing in the Olympic Games - the world's greatest sporting stage - and inspire them to achieve their best, both in sport and in life."

Major League Baseball commissioner Robert Manfred said: "Baseball and softball are global sports that belong in the Olympics."

However, the five additions are only for 2020. Beginning with the Tokyo Games, each Olympic host can propose adding sports with national appeal.

Whichever city earns the right to host the Summer Games in 2024 will get to propose sports of its own, which could be different and could replace some or all of the new sports set for Tokyo.

The five new sports will add an estimated 18 events and 474 athletes, even as the IOC tries its best to balance innovation with a promise to make the Summer Games easier to stage.

Until yesterday, the Winter Games had been quicker to cater to youthful tastes, adding snowboarding in 1998 and, more recently, slopestyle. But the Summer Games are already bursting at the seams - there are 10,500 athletes competing across 28 sports in Rio.

For now, existing sports are not affected. But whether any of them will be dropped is a matter to be finalised by the IOC executive board in mid-2017.

Existing sports may also find it challenging to add events to the Olympic programme.

International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) president Thomas Weikert has been hoping to add an extra gold medal at the 2020 Games by adding mixed doubles to the sport's current slate of men's and women's singles and team events. That could prove difficult as the IOC attempts to make the Games less bloated.

But at least they are still in the mix. Sports like squash, which has been lobbying for Olympic inclusion for years, could only put on a brave front yesterday.

Alex Gough, chief executive of the Professional Squash Association told the Press Association: "To know that dream has been taken away from our players once again is disappointing for all involved, but not unexpected.

"Throughout the course of the last decade we have addressed all of the concerns the IOC have put forward and as a result the sport is in its strongest position ever.

"We have transitioned into a burgeoning global sport... (Squash) is played in over 180 countries - boasting a truly global footprint."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'New sports to give games a facelift'. Print Edition | Subscribe