Embrace change to stay with time. That goes for the 3,000-year old Olympics movement as well.
This August, in Rio de Janeiro, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) will decide on the five sports the Tokyo organisers, the hosts of the 2020 Games, requested to be included. The disciplines are surfing, skateboarding, karate, baseball/softball, and sports climbing. That the powers that be at the IOC are even willing to discuss the inclusion of disciplines that many among them won’t consider as sport says how badly they want to change the impression of the Olympics.
Yes, it is true that the Olympic Games represent the pinnacle of multi-sport event, and for most athletes, winning it is the ultimate ambition. That, however, does not guarantee regular audience across all platform. The concern among the IOC is, save for the flagship events such as 100m sprint, the Olympics do not garner the attention of the millennial generation, that is those who reach adulthood in 2000 or later, as it should. To be clear, the focus is not about mere excitement surrounding the Games, but numbers that generate money, that is consumption of TV, podcast, mobile programmes, merchandise sales and such. A quick look at the exponential growth of young sports firms and their associated sponsors through events such as motocross, mountain biking, BMX and adventure sports such as wingsuit flying would suggest that the Olympics can really do a better job at marketing.
Like professional boxing became too drab for much of the American audience with the advent of mixed martial arts, and the success of the UFC, the theory goes, Olympics could be less cool for younger audience if they continue to disregard the sports they play. That is why Tokyo wants surfing, skateboarding and climbing in Olympics. It is a continuation of the push that has brought mountain biking, albeit just the cross-country cycling, into the Olympic fold in 1996 Atlanta Games and the BMX in 2008 Beijing Olympics.
For instance, according to a survery conducted by Surfriding Foundation and Surfing Magazine, there are more than 3 million surfers in the US, spending around 2.5 hours on the board per every session. They travel to spent an average of a little more than 100 sessions per year. That accounts to around 2 to 3 million US dollars of expenditure associated with local surf trips per year. This is the statistics for the US alone. Surfing has an equal if not bigger following in countries such as Australia, South Africa and Indonesia.
The inclusion of BMX in the Games in Beijing was credited for bringing new audience to the event, and is expected to be a greater attraction in Brazil, where companies such as the Red Bull and Monster have conducted their in-house BMX and downhill events. Skateboarding is expected to do the same in Tokyo, if it gets the go ahead.
These developments are, of course, causing uneasiness among the traditionalists. However, the Games motto is ‘faster, higher, stronger’. You can’t do that, if you are not playing the sport the others are. By opening the gates to newer disciplines, one could argue, the Olympics movement is only staying true to its values.