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Ahead of Olympic Selection, Potential New Sports Rev Up the Spin Cycle

26 Aug, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

It’s time for the War of the Announcements. Eight sports are fighting for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Eight sport federations met with Japanese organizers in the first week of August to state their case. The IOC will make a final decision on which sport or sports will be added in August 2016, when it meets ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The eight sports are actually a whittled-down field. Those which applied but failed to make the first cut included air sports, American football, bowls, bridge, chess, dance sport, floorball, flying disc, korfball, netball, orienteering, polo, racquetball, sumo, tug of war, underwater sports, waterski and wakeboard.

Go ahead and Google anything you don’t recognize, by the way.

Under the “Olympic Agenda 2020” reforms approved in December, the IOC agreed to abolish the cap of 28 sports for the Summer Games and move to an “events-based” system that would allow new competitions to come in, while keeping to about 10,500 athletes and 310 medal events. Which means, yes, technically, there could be eight new sports added in 2020 although that is unlikely.

Host cities are allowed to propose the inclusion of one or more additional events for their games – which is why the federations for those eight sports were just in Japan, making their presentations. And right now, those eight sports have done all they can do.

Except, of course, to rev up the spin cycle. Between now and September 30, when the organizing committee’s recommendations are due to the IOC, you can count on a blizzard of announcements from each sport federation, stating how well that presentation went oh, and why their sport is the most deserving, of course.

Take baseball and softball, for instance. Japanese organizers heard from the World Baseball Softball Confederation who, of course, wanted their sport back in the Olympics after being dropped following the 2008 Beijing Games. And upon giving their presentation, WBSC says it has reason to be optimistic.

“This is a great day for our sport,” said Riccardo Fraccari, president of the WBSC. “Today baseball and softball — and the millions of athletes and fans who call it their sport — reached first base.”

Then, of course, there’s squash – which was considered the favorite for the 2016 cycle – until, that is, the IOC’s idiotic game of turning wrestling into a political football for a few months. But wrestling is back in, and squash is back on the table – and its chances are thought of very highly.

World Squash Federation President N. Ramachandran, who led the squash presentation at the event panel presentation, was upbeat in comments made at the press conference which followed.

“We were delighted to have a further opportunity to show the exciting journey of change and innovation that squash has been on,” said Ramachandran. “Also to explain how we would be a low-cost addition with small athlete numbers.”

These days, ‘low-cost’ is a pretty magical term. After the budget overruns that have accompanied the last several Olympics, the concept of facilities that can be built quickly and easily sounds like a winner. And squash, being played on a glass court with a wooden floor, can be built pretty much any place.

 “I could do it on the bridge over the Bosphorus (Turkey), in a bullfighting ring (Spain) or in the Imperial Palace gardens (Japan),” Ramachandran of India said, according to The Associated Press. “You tell me where to put it, and I will do it. You can put them up in a matter of three days.”

Another sport that is working the spin is karate. Although karate has failed to win Olympic inclusion three times before – for the Beijing, London and Rio Games – the chances are a lot better this time for the traditional Japanese sport.

According to the Associated Press, the Japan Karatedo Federation says more than 100 million people practice karate in 190 countries, more than baseball and softball's combined total of 65 million players in 141 countries.

Shuji Kusaka, JKF secretary general, believes karate meets all the criteria the IOC will be looking at in a new event, including universality, roots in tradition and gender equality.

''All we need to do,'' Kusaka said, ''is just wait for the happy news.''

And adding to karate's momentum, the Tokyo city government unanimously adopted a resolution in November calling for the inclusion of karate and the combined bid for baseball and softball.

That’s some heavy hitting, and some serious deck-stacking. But the host city does a lot of work and takes a lot of risk, so it’s only fair.

Then there’s sport climbing. Sport climbing, which is a form of rock climbing, does differ from any other event in the Olympics. The organizers say it will bring a fresh young demographic to the Games.

"In 2013 we counted 25 million climbers. In 2015 new estimates are 35 million, and 50 percent of our climbers are under 25 years of age, thanks to the latest trend of urban/action sports," said IFSC sport manager Jerome Meyer.

In addition, Meyer notes, it’s relatively inexpensive to implement, and can be performed indoors and outdoors.

Bowling, another finalist, is still in the game. Ahead of the meetings in Tokyo, World Bowling president Kevin Dornberger expressed confidence in the sport’s chances.

"We match up pretty well with the criteria, including gender equity, universality and youth appeal", Dornberger told Bowlingdigital.

"There are organized youth programs in over 100 countries. I challenge you to walk into any bowling center and not see kids bowling, often with their families, which is one of our strengths."

World Bowling also highlights its prominence in Japan. "Japan is our second-largest member federation, behind the United States, in terms of participation", said Dornberger, adding that bowling would definitely add value to the Games by engaging the Japanese.

Roller sports are another demographic that skews young. Its multiple disciplines include roller hockey, roller figure skating, skateboarding, speed skating and roller derby. According to Sabatino Acaru, president of Federation Internationale de Roller Sports (FIRS), the panel has every reason to be optimistic following its presentation.

“We are satisfied,” Aracu said. “We presented a complete project that in five years will lead roller sports to be an even more important sport in Japan and we are sure we can create a consistent legacy both before and after the Games. And we know that we have all it takes to contribute and make the Olympics more spectacular and appealing. The success of Tokyo 2020 is our top priority.”

The traditional Chinese sport of wushu is also at the table, and has been for several cycles. The International Wushu Federation says this could be the year for the sport, which is based on traditional martial arts.

"Wushu is gaining popularity all over the world. We are very serious to see this sport at Olympics," said IWUF executive board member Ang Mong Seng. The IWUF executive said that the sport is being practiced not only in its place of origin, China, but also in many other countries.

Surfing, the final card on the table, is popular and has a high profile – but like snowboarding in its early days of being a demonstration sport at the Olympics, has a core group of athletes resistant to the rules and commercialism that might accompany such a selection.

“While this is a monumental achievement for the sport of surfing, it is still met with mixed feelings from some members of the surfing community,” notes an article in Transworld Business.

The International Surfing Association, meanwhile, is much more positive. “This is a significant milestone for our sport and gives us further motivation and resolve to make our Olympic dream become a reality,” noted the organization. “With its youthful values and engagement, surfing has incredible global appeal and a unique and modern blend of high performance, style and culture – traits which we believe would add huge value to Tokyo 2020.”

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen a pattern emerging. It’s not just inexpensive venues that are being touted, it’s the presence of a lower age bracket. In fact, that’s a driving factor. Adding events like slopestyle skiing and snowboarding to the most recent winter Olympics, IOC president Jacques Rogge noted, was an effort to bring in an edgier, younger vibe to the Games so that they did not look stale or stuffy.

“Such events provide great entertainment for the spectators and add further youthful appeal to our already action-packed lineup of Olympic winter sports,” Rogge said.

These values will be echoed in the decision-making for the 2020 summer Games, according to Fujio Mitarai, who chaired the selection panel.

“The most important factors are: Does the sport have the support of the younger generation and how big is the population of the sport worldwide?” Mitarai said.

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