By Christian Radnedge
LONDON (Reuters) – An abandoned market hall, with concrete walls daubed in graffiti, provides a perfect backdrop for the inaugural World Urban Games starting in Budapest on Friday.
The gritty surroundings offer street credibility to an event seeking to win over new fans in a city that is home to one of the youngest and liveliest demographics in Europe.
The Games feature six main sports; BMX freestyle, roller freestyle, 3×3 basketball, flying disc, parkour and breakdancing, plus two showcase events in laser run and indoor rowing.
The event, to be held every two years from now on, is seen as an outlet for youngsters in cities across the world utilising their urban environment to become prolific sports stars.
The International Olympic Committee, in its drive to attract a younger audience has even included some of the sports on the Olympic programme – BMX freestyle will feature at next year’s Tokyo Games while breakdancing will debut at Paris in 2024.
Urban sports could end up eclipsing many ‘traditional’ sports, thanks in part to their visibility on social media. Parkour videos number in their tens of millions on YouTube and the sport wishes to remain a product of the streets.
Last year, international federation Parkour Earth accused gymnastics chiefs of trying to ‘annex’ the sport, promoting their campaign to remain independent with the hashtag #wearenotgymnastics.
It is why Raffaele Chiulli, president of the Global Association of International Sports Federations, believes the Urban Games will carve its own place on the global stage.
“We see the role of our multi-sport games as something very different to that of the Olympic Games, which is truly unique…, but absolutely not to replicate or compete with the Olympic Games,” the Italian told Reuters in an email.
“The concept of the World Urban Games is to inspire young people. I believe that there are young people who will come to the Games this weekend and see something spectacular.
“If we can help the growth and development of sport by attracting new fans, we are providing an important service to our members.”
Around 300 athletes from 48 countries across five continents are set to compete this weekend in Budapest, which has previously tried to host the Olympics but withdrew its most recent bid for 2024 after public opposition.
Reception to the Urban Games has been more positive, however, with Chiulli expecting 30,000 spectators at the Urban Games Park in the south of the city – to some a wasteland, but to fresh eyes a playground.
“For us, the fact that this is a city steeped in history and tradition, yet with one of the youngest demographics in Europe, makes it the perfect partner for the World Urban Games,” Chiulli said.
It’s also an opportunity to create an event that is forward-thinking in every aspect of its organisation.
“The athletes performing are elite in their own right and have worked for many years at their abilities. We want to promote them and their sport,” Chiulli added.
“We are actively working against any form of discrimination, and through the Games we have worked hard to promote gender equity…
“We have strived to achieve an equal balance between male and female athletes, and we have ensured equal prize money in each discipline, which we are very proud of.”
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)