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Climbing in Popularity, a Potential Olympic Sport Forges Alliances

20 Apr, 2016

By: Tracey Schelmetic

When rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson scaled the Dawn Wall of Yosemite’s El Capitan last summer under the eyes of 13 million social media users, regular, long-time climbers probably saw good and bad in the high-profile event.

It’s bad news because the increasing popularity of the sport has already resulted in hour-long waits to climb some popular outdoor rock features as well as large crowds at indoor climbing centers. It’s good news because it may bolster the chances of sport climbing being added to the Olympic program for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Climbing is one of five sports under consideration by the IOC (the others are baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding and surfing) and popularity, as reflected by the sport’s ability to draw a large television audience, plays a large part in the likelihood of approval.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), the sport’s governing body, is also raising its profile. The IFSC recently announced that it has signed up six official partners for the 2016 season, which begins at Meiringen, Switzerland in mid-April with the first 2016 IFSC World Cup event: Kailas, an outdoor sports company; Entre-Prises, which creates climbing walls; DJI, a drone and aerial photography firm; Extreme sports channel Epic TV and sport shoe company Tenaya. Kailas, a Chinese company, and Entre-Prises are renewing their partnerships from 2015 with the IFSC, and DJI has collaborated in the past with the IFSC to benefit from increased visibility on IFSC social networks.

“We are…very pleased to welcome new innovative partners that all share the same values,” said IFSC marketing and communications director Anne Fuynel in a statement. "It confirms that our sport is growing fast and gets the support of companies in and out the climbing community.”

Fuynel noted that sport climbing is gaining particular traction (pardon the pun) because of its popularity with younger demographics of climbers.

“Our sport attracts the young generation, the sport presentation has been improved in order to attract a broader audience and deliver an exciting experience. All these innovative partners will support us in our quest to reach a new step,” she said.

One of the “new steps” is greater media coverage. The 13 million social media views of Caldwell and Jorgeson’s ascent may prove that the sports viewing public is ready to watch climbing. EpicTV, which has covered some sport climbing events since 2012, is expanding its coverage by becoming the IFSC Official Media Partner.

“Our ambition in the years to come is to be the leading climbing network in Europe and globally. We are very excited to be part of the growth of climbing, its community and to support the IFSC even further this season in its quest to be selected in Tokyo 2020,” said Jean-Mael Gineste, Head of Partnerships at EpicTV.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is scheduled to make its decision regarding additions to the sport lineup for 2020 at its session this year in Rio de Janeiro. If sport climbing is chosen as a new event, a total of 40 climbers would take part in the Tokyo games, according to Dan Palmer writing for the Web site Inside the Games.

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