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When Does an Additional Sport Become a Core Olympic Sport?

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The additional sports for Paris 2024 will deliver a young and urban Games it is claimed. Photo: Paris 2024

By Michael Pavitt |

After a long build-up the additional sports for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris are now finally official. Well, sort of.

Breaking, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing will be on show in Paris. Maybe even as far afield as Tahiti

Last week’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session rubber stamped the sports, after approval from Paris 2024, the IOC Program Commission and the IOC Executive Board.

Further approval, if required, will come next December when the IOC Executive Board meet after 18 months of the sport’s being monitored.

Barring a disaster of AIBA-like proportions, the four sports are home and hosed.

Understandably, the focus of the additional sports has been on breaking with Paris 2024 set to mark its Olympic debut, following a Summer Youth Olympic debut at Buenos Aires 2018. The debate will rage from now until well beyond the Olympics in the French capital over its sporting credentials, but it will be at the Games.

As I argued earlier this year, while the sport is all about creativity it also makes sense from a number crunching perspective.

Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet claimed the breaking finals at Buenos Aires 2018 attracted over one million views in a 24 hour period. With only 32 athletes expected to contest the Paris 2024 competitions – in the men’s and women’s events – it represents a small drop in the ocean for organizers.

Boosted by the fact people care far more about the Olympic Games than the Youth Olympics, you could imagine vastly larger viewing figures for the breaking competitions at Paris 2024 among an audience the IOC are seeking to turn into the next generation of Olympic fans.

Sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing, meanwhile, have succeeded where Alan Partridge failed and have secured a second series.

Their renewal for Paris 2024 comes prior to the Olympic debut taking place at Tokyo 2020. It is both an odd quirk process where the sport’s need to be confirmed five years out, while seemingly reaffirming the disciplines as IOC favorites. After all the sports largely viewed as picks by Tokyo 2020 – baseball/softball and karate – will not feature at Paris 2024. 

“This really does underline the innovation and ongoing flexibility that has been brought into the Olympic program,” IOC sport director Kit McConnell said this week.

“Three of the four sports are part of the existing Olympic program for Tokyo 2020, as it were. In this regard we are very much building a continuity, focusing on innovation and a complementary program.

“It builds on the incredible success of the existing 28 sports and how they can continue to evolve, like we have seen with 3×3 basketball and BMX freestyle.”

Confirmation of the three sports for Paris 2024 and the mention of continuity poses another question.

How many consecutive editions of the Olympic Games would a sport need to be part of before it would go from being an additional sport to a core one?

The decision for Los Angeles 2028 is probably four years away, but both skateboarding and surfing appear obvious fits to the “California cool” image presented by the American bid team two years ago in Lima.

Three appearances, you suspect, would have much of the non-Olympic politics following population considering the sports to have become fixtures of the program.

The sports themselves certainly have a case then for claiming a fair share of Olympic revenues. While none of the five sports will receive any revenue from Tokyo 2020, it is not yet determined whether they will from Paris 2024.

McConnell referred to the sports as being a “package” this week when IOC members voted in favour of the four in a single vote.

It certainly feels like a package deal, apart from surfing which will take place at its own venue. Breaking, sport climbing and skateboarding are claimed to fit the “urban” concept the IOC have become increasingly welded to.

Buenos Aires 2018 saw breaking, 3×3 basketball and sport climbing take place in a sole urban venue, meaning those with wristbands able to wander from one event to another. The loss of one of the events would have made the urban park far less effective.

The concept is expected to be built upon at Tokyo 2020, with the Aomi Urban sports venue set to host basketball 3×3 and sport climbing. Elsewhere the Olympic BMX course will also host BMX freestyle and skateboarding.

You could suggest BMX freestyle would not be at the Games without skateboarding and perhaps vice versa. The addition of sport climbing certainly feels complementary to the addition of the 3×3 basketball events.

As such, should the competitions prove successful at Tokyo 2020 it would be increasingly hard to see the events removed from the Olympic program. 

Estanguet gave a flavor of the idea the IOC and Paris 2024 want to deliver when he spoke of live music and street art at the Games in five years’ time, along with the sport competitions.

Given the additional sports are yet to feature at the Games, it is probably too early to say that the concept is here to stay. But it feels like a successful debut of the sports and the urban parks concepts at Tokyo 2020 could have a potentially lasting effect on the Olympic program.

International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre highlighted the importance this week of the Tokyo 2020 competitions to the prospect of becoming a core Olympic sport.

“Everybody who competes wants to win the gold; the gold for us is permanent Olympic status,” Aguerre said. “It is quite clear all these new sports will add a lot of value and some demographics.

“I said to Thomas [Bach] we are here to stay. But we have to execute. We won’t get a second chance to make a first impression, for the three of us in Tokyo, we know this is it.”

Perhaps Tokyo 2020 will have more of a significant impact on the sport programme in the future than we first believed. A successful debut of the additional sports and parks concept could well see the IOC commit firmly to the idea and the sports going forwards.

While it is entirely hypothetical for now, it would not be a major surprise to see a revaluation of the core sport program as a possible consequence.

Any re-evaluation would have to be handled with care, given the controversy surrounding wrestling’s Olympic future back in 2013.

McConnell promised last week that the IOC sport department would continue to assess sports performance at Tokyo 2020 using a variety of different metrics.

“The first time we went to event level we drilled down was Rio [2016],” he said. “Where we looked at broadcast, social media, the digital media and all the metrics, including ticketing.

“We will do it in Tokyo, with the advances in technology it means the way we can do that in Tokyo will be significantly greater. That is part of the analysis process the program commission does, but there might be certain reasons that impact.

“As we build the data over multiple Games it becomes more valuable, we use it for our own analysis, the federations will use it for their analysis.”

There are a couple of sports you instantly feel could do with a good showing at Tokyo 2020 to boost their status.

With IOC members having openly questioned the sport’s Olympic future this week due to judging problems, rather than the wider governance issues, boxing is one. 

Unless the governance issues can be sorted the future does appear uncertain, although its largely working-class nature and breadth of participation across a wide number of nations are positive points.

Weightlifting diced with death for Paris 2024 but the sport has the impression of being one major slip-up away from having its status reconsidered. The likes of modern pentathlon, who have history but lack the youth appeal increasingly required by the IOC, could also do with a strong Games showing next year.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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