Urbanisation of the Olympic Games or Pandering to the Youth?

In August the International Olympic Committee announced that Baseball for men and Softball for women will return to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. There was no great surprise there as the sport is massive in Japan. Also being introduced are Karate, Skateboard, Sports climbing and Surfing.

When these sports were announced the IOC said that plans were afoot to “stage the skateboarding and sports climbing events in temporary venues installed in urban settings.” The reasons behind this decision was to take the Games to young people, and reflect the trend of urbanisation of sport.

The decision behind the introduction of these sports was the culmination of a two-year process that began with the unanimous approval of the IOC’s strategic roadmap in 2014. This recommended that the IOC give Organising Committees the flexibility to propose new sports for their edition of the Games. The focus being on innovation, flexibility and youth in the development Olympic programme.

The inclusion of these new sports will add 18 events and 474 athletes to the Games. There will be an equal number of women and men for all of the sports except baseball and softball. These will have the same number of teams but different player totals; because softball teams have 15 players whilst baseball teams have 24.

At the time 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.”

Traditionalists have for a long time been concerned that the Olympic Games are becoming too cumbersome with so many events. Many fans of various sports becoming increasingly frustrated around the world as because their nation did not have a competitor in one event then there was no coverage of that sport given.

Then there is the commercialisation of the Games. Is this really about being more inclusive to the younger generations, or is it more about attracting new revenue dollars from sports. Surfing and Skateboarding is a whole new market with huge revenue opportunities. Suddenly some of the big brands will be vying for the opportunity to be the official supplier to the Olympics.

With news this week that Paragliding will be a part of the 2018 Asian Games to be held in Indonesia one wonders where these events are heading and whether they are right to dilute the exisiting events in order to bring in new financial opportunities.

One wonders if there is not in fact the opportunity to stage an alternative Games to the Olympics in which many of these events are featured. These could also be held every four years or even every two years if shoe-horned in between the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

With all due respect to all the athletes and organisers or the Rio Olympics many felt that there was something missing from these Games. It could be that now there are too many events spread over too many venues and the focus has gone from the blue riband events that capture the imagination and the history. It was interesting to read one former Olympic swimmer state that there were too many events now in the pool, and too many medals up for grabs and that these needed to be cut back in order to give the medals credibility.

Is this expansion of the Olympic Games undermining its credibility as an event? Is it undermining the value of an Olympic medal?

Whatever the answer to these questions the biggest concern is that these decisions are commercially driven rather than for the good of the Olympic Games. Baseball and Softball were always going to be re-introduced for the Tokyo Games. IN fact it is said of Baseball in Japan that the game is so popular the Japanese are surprised to hear the Americans call it their national sport. It has been played in Japan since 1872.

Seven times Baseball has been played as a demonstration Sport at the Olympic Games; more than any other sport. It featured a single game at the first five Olympic appearances and then was played in a tournament format in 1984 and 1988.The International Olympic Committee granted baseball official status in 1986 for the 1992 Summer Olympics.The sport was contested at each subsequent Games through 2008. After the Beijing Games the IOC removed it from the roster of Olympic sports. In 2012 London was looking to accommodate the sport at various Iconic Cricket grounds but the positioning of the pitchers mound was going to prove a major issue.

Baseball and Softball are back and fans will be happy, but they will be watching anxiously as to which city gets hosting rights for the 2024 Games as it could once again find itself dropped from the program as financially it would not be a viable event in a non- baseball playing country. That is why the Olympic Games should stick to the traditional sports for which it is known and possibly create an alternative Games for the others. This event could in fact help fund the traditional Games.

Urbanisation of the Olympic Games or Pandering to the Youth?
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