The Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) might win the award for most determined governing body. It believes, really believes, that the World Beach Games has a lot of potential.
After multiple missteps leading up to the 2019 World Beach Games (including but not limited to date changes, downsizing and a last-minute change of venues from San Diego to Qatar) followed by a lower-than predicted turnout, ANOC has announced Bali, Indonesia as host for its 2023 event. Of course, it was the only city to bid on the international multi-sport event where most sports were sand- or ocean-based.
According to Inside the Games, “Indonesia was confirmed as the only candidate for the 2023 World Beach Games at the ANOC General Assembly last year but could not be awarded the event as its National Anti-Doping Organization (NADO) had recently been declared non-compliant by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). With the Indonesian NADO taken off WADA's non-compliance list in February, Indonesia was free to be awarded major events again, and an ANOC delegation visited the country to assess potential host locations.”
More than 1,200 athletes from 97 National Olympic Committees competed across the World Beach Games in Qatar and a similar level of participation is expected in Bali.
Of course, to understand those numbers, you have to take a look at the history of the 2019 event. 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.)
Originally, the World Beach Games were to feature representatives from all 206 National Olympic Committees participating in nearly 25 sports including the spectrum of beach and sand sports. These included beach and sand-based track & field, wrestling, flag football, tennis, 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 3x3 basketball – although it was noted that more sports might be added.
Inside the Games had stated at the time that the World Beach Games could attract up to 5,000 athletes from more than 200 countries. Up to 50,000 spectators could be expected per day at Mission Beach, with an additional 10,000 attending sports held at venues on downtown piers.
But the games shrank significantly. 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 would be invited to send athletes. Later, it was announced that BMX cycling would be cut because of venue costs.
Ultimately, the Games were pulled from San Diego at the last minute. Financial issues were cited, according to Inside the Games, which reported that doubts had increasingly arisen in the months leading up to the event, 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.”
For the 2023 Games in Bali, ANOC has published its Qualification Systems for seven core sports: Aquathlon, Beach Handball, Beach Soccer, Beach Tennis, Beach Wrestling, Karate and Open Water Swimming. The qualification systems for the remaining mandatory sports (Beach Volleyball 4×4, Beach Water Polo, Sailing Kiteboarding Expression) and the optional sports will be released in the upcoming weeks and months.
There was no immediate word what the optional sports will be, nor any note of when they will be announced.
For its part, ANOC seems to be aiming for a low-budget event, noting on its website, “Sustainability and accessibility are at the heart of the Games concept, with an emphasis placed on minimizing environmental impact by using existing and temporary infrastructure and keeping hosting budgets low. All of the world’s 206 NOCs have the opportunity to qualify for the Games, with guaranteed participation of athletes from all five continents.”
At approximately the same time all the problems were going on with the World Beach Games in San Diego, Los Angeles was having similar issues. It was awarded the World Urban Games for September 2019 – but in March 2019, with less than six months to go, the event was pulled from L.A. and moved to Hungary.
That event was produced by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) which recently noted it would be dissolving in 2022 – although it also has signed a contract for the World Combat Games to take place in 2023.
All in all, unless you’re hosting the Olympics, it’s not a great time to be the host of an international multi-sport event, apparently.