Was it something in the water? More like something in the bottom line. The beleaguered World Beach Games, scheduled for October 2019, have been abruptly yanked out of San Diego. A new host city is being considered – but the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), the event owner – isn’t saying WHICH city. And in the World Beach Games' turbulent history is a warning for all large-scale international multi-sport events.
The announcement about the World Beach Games, made at the end of May, landed with the resounding thud of a death knell for a city trying to build up a reputation for international sports tourism.
Financial issues were cited, according to Inside the Games, which reported that doubts had increasingly arisen in recent months, with the Chef de Missions seminar for the Games being postponed twice.
A formal statement from Vincent Mudd, chairman of the Games-organizing San Diego Exploratory Foundation, noted, “Due to challenges with securing the necessary sponsorships for the inaugural 2019 ANOC World Beach Games in San Diego this October, and the time sensitivity, we have regretfully learned the Association of National Olympic Committees has decided to withdraw the event from San Diego.
The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Mudd as saying: “We were never looking for government funding, because in the U.S., you don’t have governments funding these games, so we needed these inaugural games to stand on their own by finding corporate sponsorships. And what we were unable to do was identify that corporate sponsor to fully fund the games. The issue was the companies wanted to see the games happen first and then jump on board for maybe the second edition. It’s not like we didn’t find corporate sponsors with $500,000 to give, but we needed capital to fund the entire games.”
In a separate article, Joe Terzi, chief executive of the San Diego Tourism Authority, admitted fundraising had been an uphill battle all along.
"There will be some negative press, but this is not a knock on San Diego," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We’re not a city blessed with headquarter corporations; we don’t have the resources to go to a Microsoft or an Oracle, and it was an event that had never happened before.”
According to an article in the Times of San Diego, Inside The Games reported that the 206-member Association of National Olympic Committees was in talks with at least two possible replacement host cities thought to be in Asia – although there were no reports of which city.
Unfortunately, the announcement isn’t much of a shock. The Games (based on the successful Asian Beach Games in Bali in 2008), were awarded to San Diego in 2014, and then underwent multiple changes, each of them negative. At first, the Games were to be held in 2017 but that was pushed to 2019. (While ANOC claimed the step was taken in order to allow national Olympic committees and international federations “optimum time to prepare their athletes” for the event, few believed it and most cited the cost of the Games and the inability to raise appropriate capital.)
Once the event was rescheduled for 2019, it was downsized – significantly. Originally, the World Beach Games were to feature representatives from all 206 National Olympic Committees participating in nearly 25 sports including beach-based track & field, wrestling, American flag football, beach tennis, beach volleyball, soccer, wrestling, handball, BMX, canoeing, Ultimate, surfing, jet skiing, triathlon, karate, taekwondo, skateboarding, marathon swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, climbing, water polo, windsurfing, eSports and 3-on-3 basketball – although it was noted that more sports might be added.
Then, the announcement was made, the event was to be downsized. According to an article in Inside The Games, San Diego Exploratory Foundation leader Vincent Mudd told the Times of San Diego that his group had decided to aim for around 40 countries to participate in 17 sports, with a total of just over 1,300 athletes expected. However, Inside The Games noted, all 206 NOCs will be invited to send athletes. Later, it was announced that BMX cycling would be cut because of venue costs.
So – to reiterate – if anyone is really surprised, they’re being drowned out by the sound of crickets. Pundits are already expecting the fall 2019 date for the World Beach Games to be moved once again.
ANOC says this will not be the case. “The Games will take place in 2019 and ANOC is currently in discussion with a number of cities that have the financial guarantees necessary and a proven track record to host a world-class event,” the Swiss-based group said in a statement.
And oddly, it’s not the first time this year hosting duties were taken away from a California city. The World Urban Games, first awarded to Los Angeles in November 2018 and scheduled for September 2019, were abruptly moved to Budapest, Hungary in March amid reports that the organizers (the Global Association of International Sport Federations, GAISF) and the city could not agree on the scope (translation: budget) of events to be presented.
And the World Urban Games, for that matter, seems to have plenty of its own baggage. The event also has been downsized and now includes six competition sports and two showcase sports. Inside The Games recently noted the World Urban Games are planned for a venue near the River Danube, known as “the big market.” Organizers are hoping the event will revitalize the industrial location, which it admits is avoided by residents, and is riddled with waste and syringes. A clean-up operation will take place in advance of the Games which were, at last check, still scheduled for the fall.
Whether those games will happen is an open question, or if they happen, whether they will warrant a repeat event in years to come. And it's a fair question. The overwhelming cost of hosting international multi-sport events is as much to blame for many of these problems as is their sheer scope, the need for them to deliver venues, housing, transportation -- and in many cases, spectators. Getting buy-in from cities is not easy and it seems the number of failed multi-sport events just keeps piling up.
The challenges facing international multi-sport events are daunting. Advertising and sponsorship funds are tighter than ever, athletes in many small sports are unable to pay their own way, and with so many individuals able to use personal devices to stream sports events, is there any percentage in the television advertising that might possibly bring in revenue? So far, the Olympics and Pan-Am Games seem to be the only international multi-sport events succeeding cycle after cycle. And as the Olympics continue to showcase new sports, it may well be that many sports shown in these events will migrate over, leaving the events on the drawing board.