It was an example of what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hoped to gain by introducing new and in some controversial sports like skating, surfing, rock climbing, freestyle BMX and 3 × 3 basketball ” of street “. Eaton and Briton Sky Brown, 13, were exactly the kind of new-age stars the IOC was looking for: young, fearless, with international appeal; perfect artists for the digital world, with talents that could be bundled and released into bite-sized clips.
An Olympic upheaval had been in the works for a decade or more, and the IOC was particularly alarmed by a sharp drop in audience figures at Rio 2016 and data that revealed a decline in interest among young people. Announcing new events for Tokyo later that year, IOC President Thomas Bach said: “We want to bring sport to young people. With the many options available to young people, we can no longer expect them to come to us automatically. We have to go to them.
The numbers should show that new sports have helped to attract new audiences, often with eye-catching trick-and-spin shows that brought a different kind of entertainment to the traditional Olympics ledger. They also displayed a different spirit, with a camaraderie forged over many years away from the Olympic spotlight. The climbers worked together to share tips on how to conquer the wall, while the skaters rushed to kiss and support each other, whether they flew or fell.
This is just the beginning. Breakdancing or “breaking” arrives in Paris in 2024, after being tested at the Youth Games where the finalists were called things like “Bad Matty” and “X-Rain”. E-sports won’t be far either, and the sight of teens playing computer games is more likely to honor Los Angeles 2028 than squash, for example, given the demographics, despite continued calls from the Federation. world of squash.
What constitutes an Olympic sport has long been poorly defined. Where do you draw the line between sports and… other stuff? Skateboarding was a controversial choice, but it’s essentially the summer’s answer to snowboarding, which was hugely popular during the last Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Breakdancing is more like a stretch, but isn’t it just rhythmic gymnastics in hip hop?
Parkour is another activity that could be included in future Games, and traditional sports are now under threat. The modern pentathlon, an event that simulates the experience of a 19th century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines, consistently ranks at the bottom of the ladder for television audiences and social engagement, and its days are meant to be accounts.
Bach hailed Tokyo as a success with specific reference to digital engagement, citing “over 250 million cheers on the virtual joy card” no matter what. “These Olympics were younger, more urban, more gender balanced, attracting new audiences and communities, and creating new Olympians,” he said. “Our IOC and Tokyo 2020 social media posts generated more than 4.7 billion engagements in 2021 and the majority of them in the past 14 days. “
A generous opinion might be that these action sports are not just aimed at attracting new audiences, but are part of a drive to be more inclusive and get young people involved in sport. After a successful pilot at the 2018 Youth Games in Buenos Aires, there were big plans for a “waterfront city” in Tokyo Bay that would have brought sports like 3 × 3 basketball to people with demonstrations and chances to try them, before the idea is jostled by the pandemic.
A more cynical view is that the IOC is a business and its model relies almost entirely on broadcast revenue – hence the determination to host these Games with or without fans, despite a global health crisis. It’s a model that only works if people are watching.
The Olympic brand is a powerful thing, founded on inspiring stories and human excellence, and its value is demonstrated by the ferocity with which it is protected. During London 2012, a butcher in Dorset was ordered to take down his stall of sausages in the shape of Olympic rings because they mimicked the famous logo; This week, two-time Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah had a clip of her run that she posted on social media blocked for copyright infringement. The IOC wants to preserve its cash cow, but also to make it grow: the way to achieve this is to hook a new generation to these evocative rings.
The new leadership has a lot of criticism, especially within the Olympic machine itself. When the inclusion of breakdance was proposed to IOC member Sebastian Coe by The independent earlier this year he rolled his eyes. “Well, that’s in there,” he said emphatically. Wait for E-sports to arrive. But there is little time for romance in business and there is an unwavering determination to bring this Olympic revolution to fruition, which the IOC sees as essential to securing the future of the Games. Love it or hate it, the new order is here to stay.