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Washing Up: World Beach Games Announce Another Postponement

12 May, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Organizers Say Beleaguered Event Will Now Be Held in 2023

The more things change, the more they (unfortunately, in this case) stay the same. ANOC (the Association of National Olympic Committees), organizers of the World Beach Games, has announced the 2021 Games will be postponed until 2023. ANOC is also revising the bidding process, to be re-opened next year.

ANOC said the Games, originally to be held in 2021, would have conflicted with the rescheduled Olympics. Already, another international multi-sport event, the World Games, originally scheduled for 2021, has been moved to 2022, since the original date of that event came into conflict with the new Olympics date, and both events had some sports in common.

“ANOC created the ANOC World Beach Games specifically for the benefit of the NOCs and their athletes; allowing NOCs to connect with a new generation of athletes and fans,” said Robin Mitchell, acting ANOC President. “Therefore, we have a responsibility to ensure that we continue to listen to our NOCs and deliver an event that is in their best interests. With Tokyo 2020 now scheduled for next year and then Beijing 2022 taking place just over six months later, the ANOC Executive Council has decided it would put too much pressure on NOCs to host the ANOC World Beach Games between the two Olympic Games."

Unfortunately, the announcement didn't land with much of an impact. The World Beach Games have more than their share of baggage. The event (based on the successful Asian Beach Games in Bali in 2008), was 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, 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 3-on-3 basketball – although it was noted that more sports might be added.

Then, a new stripped-down format was introduced. 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.

After that came the next blow. With less than six months until go-time, ANOC announced the World Beach Games would not be held in San Diego after all; however, they did not announce a new host city immediately. (Qatar was ultimately chosen). The Games that were then held in October had a reported competition attendance of more than 1,200 athletes from 97 countries across a total of 13 sports.

So – to reiterate – if anyone is really surprised by this latest development, their voices are being drowned out by the sound of crickets.

Whether the World Beach Games will happen again is an open question. 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, even for an event with the cache of the Olympics, and it seems the number of failed multi-sport events just keeps piling up. At the same time, potential bidders are backing away from the IOC's bidding table and increasingly, cities are requiring a vote from residents to see if they also agree to hosting. 

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, there is less value in advertising in televised coverage. So far, the Olympics and Pan-Am Games, as well as the World 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.

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