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Will Paris Olympics’ New Sport Help Games Break Away from Aging Audience?

16 Dec, 2020

By: Michael Popke

The name of the 18th highest-grossing film of 1984, Breakin’, is now an official Olympic sport.  Yes, break dancing will debut at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris, where it will be called “breaking” — as it was by U.S. hip-hop pioneers in the 1970s.

The 2024 Paris Games will represent a significant shift for the Olympic movement, with an emphasis on gender equality and youth. Breaking will join three other new youth-centric sports that will debut at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next summer — skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing — and participation in 2024 will be split equally among male and female competitors. Additionally, the overall athlete quota will be reduced to 10,500, and the overall number of events will drop to 329.

“With this program, we are making the Olympic Games Paris 2024 fit for the post-coronavirus world,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. “We are further reducing the cost and complexity of hosting the Games. While we will achieve gender equality already at the upcoming Olympic Games [in] Tokyo, we will see for the first time in Olympic history the participation of the exact same number of female athletes as male athletes. There is also a strong focus on youth.”

The move (pardon the pun) to breaking for the Paris Games makes sense on multiple fronts. First, breakdancing is popular in France. Second, viewership of the Games gets older with each Olympic cycle. As Forbes.com wrote in 2019— nearly two years before the IOC vote: “Television ratings for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics on U.S. broadcaster NBC were down 15 percent compared to the 2012 Summer Games held in London, according to a 2016 report on adage.com. The Rio Games were ‘the oldest-skewing Olympics going back to 1960, the year the Olympics were first televised here in the U.S. The median age of the Rio Games was 52.4 years, up 6 percent from London’s 49.5 years and up 15 percent when compared to the 2000 Sydney Olympics (45.5 years),’ according to Ad Age.”

Breaking debuted at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the sport attracted 90,000 spectators on its first day of competition, according to the World DanceSport Federation. Breakers, alone or in teams, compete in “battles” by “taking turns to show off an array of imaginative, acrobatic and improvised moves to a DJ’s beat, watched by a judging panel that picks the winner,” the Associated Press reported in 2019.

“It’s going to be great for breaking, as it gives us more recognition as a sport,” British break dancer KaramSingh told the BBC, according to CBSSports.com. “And for the Olympics, it will attract young people who may not follow some of the traditional sports.”

That said, USA Today reported that “[w]hile much of the breaking community has embraced its inclusion at the Olympics, some have expressed concerns — that breaking’s culture is being co-opted, or that its authenticity will get twisted in the transition. There’s a fear that Olympic judges, for example, might come to value technical difficulty over other intangible qualities that make breaking unique, such as passion and originality. "There’s been quite some controversy inside the scene," said Logan ‘Logistx’ Edra, a 17-year-old B-girl from San Diego, Calif. "It’s basically making sure that we preserve the essence and the culture, and that it doesn’t get lost in the competitive grind as we continue to progress and make steps into the Olympics.’”

Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, who began breakdancing in the Bronx in 1977, added that he and other veteran breakers will need to “work with the IOC and the World DanceSport Federation to ensure the Olympic version of breaking stays true to its roots.”

“[It goes] beyond just the moves,” Crazy Legs told USA Today. “The passion and the pain that goes with living through struggle — that is the essence of the dance. You want to make sure that the soul of it isn’t diluted.”

The Olympics websitee xplains how breaking works at the Youth Olympic Games. The sport was proposed by organizers of the Paris Games after the sport’s initial success in Buenos Aires.

“There’s simply no doubt about the athletic aspects of the discipline,” Mounir Biba, one of France’s top break dancers told reporters at the time of the proposal, defending the activity as a sport. “I defy Cristiano Ronaldo to do just one of my movements.”

According to the Associated Press, Olympic breaking competitions will take place at Palace de le Concorde, a prestigious downtown venue that also will host sport climbing and 3-on-3 basketball.

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