Skateboarding and surfing? It’s not your grandparents’ Olympics
The 7,000 seats at Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo will be empty when the street skateboarding competition kicks off on Sunday, but organizers are hopeful that a wave of fans will connect to the coverage and the new Olympic sport will help make the Games bigger. relevant to a younger population.
Skateboarding, which began to emerge on the streets in the 1950s, is making the jump this year onto the Olympic stage with other new events including surfing, sport climbing and karate.
“I’m really delighted to be here,” said Letícia Bufoni, a 28-year-old skater from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who is considered one of the favorites to win a medal in the street competition.
The event will take place in a temporary venue built for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It includes a course with ramps, curbs and slopes, where skaters perform tricks and are judged by judges based on difficulty and of style.
Bufoni, who spoke to CBC News after a workout in the scorching sun on Wednesday, said it was amazing being in Tokyo because she never thought she would be an Olympian.
“It will be huge for skateboarding, but also for the Olympics,” she said.
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The push for a younger audience
When the International Olympic Committee announced in August 2016 the addition of five sports for Tokyo 2020, the president said it was an effort to “bring sport to the youth”.
“With the many options available to young people, we can no longer expect them to come to us automatically. We have to reach out to them,” Bach said at the time.
One expert said the IOC hopes “action sports” can attract younger viewers at a time when loyal Olympic audiences are aging.
Belinda Wheaton, professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, was study the subject for years. She said research shows that in North America, which has the largest TV audience for the Games, the age of viewers is increasing.
At the last Summer Olympics in Rio, the median age of viewers in the United States was 53. And compared to the London Games in 2012, there was a 30% drop in viewing among the 18-34 age group, Wheaton said.
“The people watching are older men,” she said. “They are really concerned about this because obviously they need young people to stay relevant.”
According to the IOC, 73 percent of its revenue is generated from broadcast rights, and Wheaton says the model only works if people are watching.
In Tokyo, organizers had hoped to create an interactive fan experience around most new sports and disciplines, including 3×3 basketball, where matches are played on half court and last for up to 10 minutes.
But the pandemic and bans around spectators have canceled those plans.
Wheaton says the ultimate goal is to get people to watch it on TV and, in particular, online.
“[These sports] have big following from their fans, ”said Wheaton. “They are very friendly with the media. They have a lot of sponsors and advertisements and the IOC is really aware of that. “
Beginning in snowboarding
She says the organizers would like to repeat the success of snowboarding, which helped reinvigorate the Winter Games.
It was added in 1998 during the Nagano Winter Games, despite opposition from some of the best snowboarders in the world who saw the Olympic movement as too corporate and capitalist.
In 2015, Wheaton surveyed over 900 athletes who participate in action sports and she said they had a range of perspectives on the Olympic movement. Some didn’t think the Games would one day be the pinnacle of sports like skateboarding and surfing, but others saw it as a chance to generate interest.
While officials will assess the popularity of these new sports for the Olympic public, there are already new additions for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
These Games will feature kitesurfing and breakout, also known as break dance, and there are discussions about trying to include parkour in future Olympics.