KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING: Five new sports, mostly aimed at reclaiming lost ground among Pierre de Coubertin’s beloved ‘youth of the world’ will join the Olympic programme in Tokyo in four years’ time.
Simultaneously, debate on the second working day of the International Olympic Committee’s session [congress] in Rio de Janeiro hinted at discontent over the presence of sports such as baseball, golf and tennis which had not followed through with promises of full-hearted commitment from star names.
Skateboarding, surfing and climbing were the three new sports confirmed unanimously – in the correct sense of the word – by the IOC in a package which also included karate and baseball/softball. The latter pair were excluded after Beijing in 2008 but merged for strategic purposes to present an Olympic-friendly ‘men and women’ sports front.
The five extra sports do not replace any of the 28 already on the Tokyo schedule but their 18 events and 400-plus athletes will force some of the traditional disciplines to trim their events.
Tokyo 2020 organisers had recommended the five sports and their own preliminary analysis and these were then approved by an IOC study panel and the executive board before winning unanimous support en bloc from the full IOC.
The IOC had said it hopes the “innovative” move will draw in new audiences by focusing inclusions on youth-oriented sports. It had foreseen the decision as possibly “the most comprehensive evolution of the Olympic programme in modern history.”
Baseball/softball: Both sports are hugely popular in Japan. Softball is a modified form of baseball with seven innings instead of nine, as well as underarm bowling.
Karate: Having originated in Japan, karate has never been contested at the Olympics. Judo, its fellow home-grown martial art, first joined in 1964, when Tokyo last hosted the Olympics, and has been included from 1972 onwards. The key difference is that judo is a grappling sport derived from jujitsu while karate is a striking, combat martial art.
Skateboarding: Street and park skateboarding have been included ahead of other roller sports including roller hockey, speed skating and artistic skating. The sport claims to be the most popular among young people. Its inclusion has been questioned by some as skateboarding does not have a world championship event.
Surfing: The inclusion is seen as a milestone for the sport given its popularity among young people. The International Surfing Association president Fernando Aguerre said: “Surfing embodies a cool, playful lifestyle that would add a completely new element to the programme, helping the Games reach new fans.”
Sport climbing: Last year, sport climbing was chosen by the IOC as a demonstration sport at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Unlike most Olympic sports, sport climbing competitions see athletes support – even help – their opponents in finishing the climb. It is seen as the “most innovative” of the new sports by the IOC.