Well, the 31st Olympiad is well underway in Rio and it has already delivered all the achievement, heartache, tears, horrific injuries, commentary gaffes, controversy and shocks one would expect from an Olympic Games. Fabulous stuff!
One of the biggest sports to re-enter the Olympic scene has been rugby sevens, and what a resounding success it has been. Starting off with the women’s competition, rugby has gone big league in a short space of time with access to a whole new audience. The Australian women’s team along with the men’s Fijian team, who won gold in their respective competitions, will be forever synonymous with Rio 2016.
The IOC (International Olympic Committee) actually announced before these Games kicked off that six new sports would be added to the Tokyo Games in 2020: skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing, karate, baseball and softball. That takes the total number of sports from 28 to 34 and adds 18 events to the current 306.
More importantly, 474 new athletes will be given the opportunity to represent their country at an Olympics.
So why the new sports?
The idea of these new sports is to aim at a younger generation and the IOC voted unanimously for their inclusion. Perhaps this is why squash continues to get snubbed, although that reason alone doesn’t explain netball’s continued exclusion. Both sports are recognised by the IOC, but have never been played at the Games; a glaring error in my opinion.
At the announcement of this news, a group of friends and I entered into a lively debate about the composition of the Olympic sporting disciplines. There was at first some outrage and shock, and the phrase, “Skateboarding is balls and belongs in the X-Games” came up, as well as, “May as well chuck in tiddlywinks and marbles” along with some other profanities relating to the inclusions.
As is my demeanour to try question things before passing judgement, I posed a simple question to the group…
Why does the Olympics exist?
Or asked another way, why does it continue to exist? And what makes it relevant still in this day and age?
I got the following back:
“It’s sport in its purest form! Mano e Mano! Everything wrong with this day and age, lack of discipline, instant gratification, celebrity culture has its solution in the beauty of the Olympics.”
I couldn’t disagree; it was the perfect answer and exactly what I was looking for.
Faster, Higher, Stronger
To elaborate, to me the Olympics is a celebration of human achievement, advancement in performance and technology, different cultures and human spirit! It’s an opportunity for sport, and indeed some lesser-known sports, to take global priority for a month (including the Paralympics).
Often it’s not the performances of the athletes that stir up the emotions in us, but the reactions of the crowd, the parents and loved ones watching on, the anthems and sometimes even the ones who come stone last. The Corinthian spirit of participation and gutsing it out on an individual level is what gives us pleasure and entertainment.
A lot of these athletes give up ‘normal’ careers to compete; they survive through sponsorship and grants from the government and part-time work. Often, they have significantly under-developed plans for post-Games income-generating activity, and that is something that I am passionate about resolving or reducing that impact. But I digress.
A life of enduring significance
I believe, then, that the biggest outcome of the Olympic Games is HOPE!
In adding new sports that are pitched at younger participants, the IOC is saying, “Hey, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world or what your background is. We’re broadening the scope of competitive activity so that it appeals to a wider audience and an athlete community that isn’t as developed as it could be. Jump on board!”
The Olympics is, therefore, the vehicle to deliver those outcomes, while the sports are just the details.
If a 14-year old in a war-torn country happens to discover a skateboard by chance (or by an active, organised and non-sadistic recruitment programme), and it turns out he or she’s pretty handy (or feety?) at it, and they remove themselves from a dire situation and inspire their immediate and larger community to change their circumstances, who are we to judge that the sport isn’t relevant to the Olympics?
Sure, attaining a position in the best league or platform that skateboarding has to offer is still an incredible outcome, but the Olympics provides a global stage and an opportunity to meet and learn from other sporting codes.
It also sends a message to ANYONE that there is hope, and that happiness and fulfilment are indeed a choice and that leading a life of significance and leaving a positive legacy is achievable.
Adding some new sports like skateboarding and surfing? I’m all for it.