Adding new disciplines to the Olympic Games program to attract a younger audience is not new. The arrival of snowboarding at the Nagano Games (1998) had caused a stir and the admission of other disciplines such as slopestyle and Big Air also went in this direction to those of Sochi (2014) and PyeongChang ( 2018).
The Tokyo Games will feature seven new sports: surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, karate, three-on-three basketball, as well as baseball (men) and softball (women). This youth turn will be even more pronounced with the addition of breakdance in Paris in 2024.
A fast lane
The organization of high-level international sport is the responsibility of international sports federations. These also manage the Olympic qualification processes according to the standards established by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Pressed to bring popular disciplines among young people into its fold, the IOC is accelerating their admission to the Olympic circle, even if some of them do not always have an international federation recognized by all.
This is what we saw with the admission of skateboarding to Tokyo and history almost repeated itself a few weeks ago with Parkour, a stunt race where participants have to overcome obstacles of street furniture. .
Parkour Earth, the international sports federation, has asked the IOC not to include Parkour in the Paris Games due to an attempted “hostile takeover” by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). The discipline which proclaims itself “the art of travel” will not ultimately be the Paris Games, except that the FIG must present the first edition of its World Championships in March in Japan. Another strong sign that she is keen to get her hands on this sport.
This situation is reminiscent of what took place in the 1990s, when the International Snowboard Federation (ISF) organized the most prestigious competitions in snowboarding. The International Ski Federation (FIS) in turn began to present events and it was ultimately this which would be recognized by the IOC, which forced the ISF to end its activities in the early 2000s.
Face the red bull and take it by the horns
Surfing, breakdancing, skateboarding, adventure kayaking, rock climbing, high-flying diving, mountain biking and video game competition are all disciplines featured on Red Bull TV, owned by the energy drink maker. The company produces events, creates them from scratch – in particular the Ice-Cross Challenge which stopped for a few years in Quebec – and sponsors hundreds of athletes all over the world, all sports combined.
Want to know what the next Olympic sports will look like? Do not look any further. Not only do the Olympic Games no longer have a monopoly on the most prestigious competitions, they no longer represent the ultimate sporting objective for some athletes of the world’s elite.
Former whitewater canoeist and 1996 Olympian, François Létourneau, cites the American Dane Jackson as an example. An athlete sponsored… by Red Bull.
“He’s one of the best paddlers in the world, but he doesn’t compete in slalom. Her dad went to the Olympics in my day. He jumps off falls and does things I never thought I would do 20 years ago. Incredible stuff! And that’s what sells, ”he explains.
Jackson has 164,000 Instagram followers and he obviously doesn’t need to follow the same rapids as his father to make a living from his sport.
“Skipping a big fall makes great photos on Instagram, but I find that sad, because we no longer value precision and finesse,” says Létourneau. To have emotions, you have to jump falls or big rapids. It makes beautiful photos, ”continues the former athlete who adds in passing that the television show Kayak expedition from Unis TV, which features paddlers from Quebec Connection, is also moving in this direction.
The show in the foreground
In addition to the events organized by Red Bull, the IOC has competition from the X-Games, as well as obstacle course shows American Ninja Warrior (TV) and Ultimate Beast Master (Netflix). The latter also has a format comparable to the Olympic Games, where teams from different countries compete against each other in a highly charged atmosphere with lighting and pyrotechnic effects worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. It is also Sylvester Stallone who is the producer of Ultimate Beast Master.
Olympic walker Mathieu Bilodeau knows that his sport cannot compete with these proposals.
“Of course, it’s difficult to find young people,” believes the one who will see the 50 kilometer event disappear from the Olympic program in 2024. “I do not understand the logic behind the arrival of breakdancing (at Olympic Games). It is not the Games of La Francophonie, which are a cultural and sporting festival. This is where I have trouble (to understand). I’m not saying they’re no good. ”
Video game competitions are also seen as a promising new market. At the Eighth Olympic Summit presented in December 2019, the IOC invited international sports federations to “examine how to govern the electronic and virtual forms of their sports and to explore the possibilities offered with game publishers. ”
Red Bull TV already occupies the field of video game competitions, an industry whose revenues exceeded the $ 1 billion mark for the first time in 2020. For that same year, the specialized video game statistics firm Stream Hatchet has noted that the number of hours of live viewing of video game competitions has regularly exceeded 600 million Internet users and viewers per week.
Whether or not these competitions fit with the image we have of what an Olympic sport is, the IOC will certainly take note of these statistics.