Climbing next to sprinting and surfing alongside shot-put: the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 just got a lot more exciting!
Ok, with the Rio Olympics set to start in just two days it may be a little premature to get too excited about the 2020 games in Tokyo, but the IOC have just announced that 5 new sports will be included in the Japan Games: climbing, surfing, skateboarding, baseball/softball and karate.
In 2014 the IOC decided to give Organising Committees the opportunity to propose new sports to be included in their edition of the games, in order to foster innovation, flexibility and youth development throughout the Olympic programme. Japan’s Olympic Committee were the first to take advantage of the change, and the IOC have just unanimously voted to ratify their choices.
Shauna Coxsey on her way to winning the World Bouldering Championship
The IOC considered a variety of factors when assessing the proposal, including the impact on gender equality, the youth appeal of the sports, and the legacy value of adding them to the Tokyo Games. The additional sports in Tokyo will not impact the athlete or event quotas of existing Olympic sports, and will not be binding on future host cities.
IOC President Thomas Bach 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. Tokyo 2020’s balanced proposal fulfils all of the goals of the Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendation that allowed it. Taken together, 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.”
However the decision is not without controversy. Surfing has long been glorified by the media and commercialised by marketing agencies; its image has been used to sell everything from dishwasher tablets to aftershave. Some consider it to have sold out and lost its soul, and it’s this which concerns some climbers. Showcasing climbing in the Olympics would thrust it firmly into the mainstream limelight. In many ways this would be great for the sport – wider appeal and awareness is a sure fire way to increased funding for both athletes and grassroots training facilities – but some fear it could also be the first step to regulation, bureaucracy and commercial exploitation. Will the pursuit of simply going outside to climb rocks, with no rules or fees, become a thing of the past?
There are further concerns about the practicalities of the surfing events. The World Surfing League has hugely improved the format of competitive surfing in recent years, with high quality and smooth live streams to ever increasing audiences. However, despite the obvious excitement and appeal of the best sursfers in the world shredding some of the fastest and most dangerous waves on the planet, there has been little interest from TV broadcasters.
The 2005 Tahiti Pro was an eye opener for competitors and spectators alike ©WSL
The simple fact is that surfing is a very fickle sport. To get great waves – the most fundamental aspect of a good competition – conditions have to be just right. The right wind, the right swell, the right swell angle, the right tide – all at the same time, in daylight hours. Even in the most consistent surf destinations like Hawaii and Indonesia, conditions often have to be postponed during long wait periods, with heats chopped and changed during the day as winds and tides change. This isn’t conducive to running reliable timetables and schedules.
The obvious answer would to use a wave pool, like Surf Snowdonia in Wales. Earlier in the year Kelly Slater (regarded as one of the best surfers of all time) revealed his new wave pool technology, blowing minds in the process with the perfection of his mechanically grinding waves and barrels. The Japanese Organising Committee recently vowed to hold the surf events in the ocean, though as the World Surfing League recently acquired the rights to Slater’s wave pool technology, the cynical may wonder if a deal is in the offing.
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However, brushing the negativity and grumbling aside, it’s great to see the Olympics taking such positive steps to innovate and engage younger generations: showcasing sports they admire and can relate to will be such an inspiration to get outside and get moving while having lots of fun.
In the words of Shauna Coxsey (UK climber and the first Brit to win the World Bouldering Championships): “Anything that makes people live a healthier lifestyle is surely a good thing. This will make climbing even more popular and hopefully open it up to people who normally wouldn’t give it a go. The sport has grown rapidly over the past decade, mostly with indoor climbing walls. I know there are some people who feel that crags may become overrun but I would like to see it become more accessible to everyone.”
Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori also said, “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.”
While at first glance surfing and skateboarding may not appear to fit with the tradition of the games, there should be no question about the athleticism involved. Mental and physical strength combined with incredible balance, coordination and precision are key to both sports – the days of rebel teenagers hanging around causing trouble and annoying their elders have given way to some of the most incredible athletic feats and jaw dropping daring known to man, and they are far more exciting as spectator sports than many traditional Olympic events.
So while the Rio Games are yet to be begin, we can’t help but look forward to seeing bouldering alongside sprinting, surfing alongside shot-put and skateboarding next to gymnastics. Well done Tokyo, and well done the IOC!