By Jack Tarrant
MIYAZAKI, Japan (Reuters) – As “cool” sports such as surfing, skateboarding and climbing prepare to make their Olympic debut in Tokyo, the president of surfing’s governing body has told Reuters that more traditional sports must adapt or face being dropped from the Games.
Karate will also make its debut in 2020 while baseball and softball return to the programme after a 12-year absence.
The additions are part of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) bid to reach a younger audience and International Surfing Association (ISU) President Fernando Aguerre said the impact of the changes could not be overstated.
“The IOC, and I think the world, wanted youth,” Aguerre told Reuters at last month’s ISA World Surfing Games in southern Japan.
“So in the beach and ocean, coolest sport? Surfing. Streets, coolest sport? Skateboarding. Outdoor coolest sport? Climbing.
“So suddenly, in one giant stroke they add the three environments; the outdoor, the ocean and urban.
“It will be the single most important programme change in decades, probably ever.”
Instead of leaning on the experience of established Olympic sports in preparing for Tokyo 2020, Aguerre thinks some of the traditional disciplines could learn a thing or two from surfing, which has also been provisionally included in the programme for Paris 2024.
“The old sports need to adapt,” said Aguerre.
“(IOC) President (Thomas) Bach is very clear about that from the first speech he made when he accepted his election he said ‘change or be changed’.”
“The evolution of the species is one of those that change… or the ones that didn’t change that are nowhere to be found.”
Some sports, including badminton, taekwondo and modern pentathlon, have come under pressure to justify their inclusion in the Olympics while question marks hang over the futures of weightlifting and boxing due to financial irregularities and doping scandals.
Aguerre pushed hard for an Olympic slot after becoming ISA chief in 1994 but the seeds were sown 80 years earlier when surfing pioneer and Olympic gold medallist swimmer Duke Kahanamoku first proposed its inclusion at Stockholm 1912.
Yet it was not until Argentine Aguerre had a discussion with then-IOC presidential candidate Bach in 2013 that things began to gain traction.
Three years later in Rio de Janeiro Aguerre finally got the news he had been hoping for.
“It is something that I dreamed about for many, many, many years,” said a beaming Aguerre.
“It was very hard. Basically it seemed impossible for a couple of decades and then suddenly a set came and we were in the right place to paddle and catch that Olympic wave.”
While it took a long time for surfing to get on the Olympic programme Aguerre puts it down to the carefree nature of the sport.
On the evening of the vote in Rio three years ago, a journalist asked him why it had taken 100 years to get surfing into the Olympics.
“My answer is: ‘maybe we were busy surfing,‘” Aguerre laughed.
“It is true, it sounds like a joke but in reality we are surfers. We are not really an organised sport to the point where you need fields, gloves, memberships, lockers, we don’t have anything.
“Basically you arrive at the beach, wrap ourselves in a towel, put on a wetsuit if it is cold, get on the beach and then go.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)