POSTED: September 30th 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: Five new sports for 2020 - too many?

The IOC will vote at next year's session prior to the Rio 2016 Games / SFC
The IOC will vote at next year's session prior to the Rio 2016 Games / SFC

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The recommendation by the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics to include five new sports to the 2020 Games will certainly concern the international federations of the existing sports on the programme.

Baseball and softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing and surfing are suggested for the Summer Games in five years' time and their inclusion will first go for approval to the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in December and then to the Session in Rio de Janeiro next summer.

There is much to commend their inclusion, after three short-listed sports, bowling, squash and wu-shu had been dropped. The short-list of eight came from the long-list of 26 international federations, who had originally put forward their case for a place at the Games.

Both baseball and softball were dropped after the 2008 Games but their popularity in Japan is well-known and it is the prerogative of each host city from 2020 to propose those activities which suit their vision for the Games. The problem with adding team sports is the number of athletes, who will take part -with each squad in baseball being 24 and 15 in softball.

Karate is, of course, has been largely developed in Japan. Although renowned as a fighting art, there are many different styles and some of the leading organisations may not be taking part. Taekwondo, the Korean version of karate, which has been in the Games since 2000 must be regarding the arrival of its more popular martial art with concern because the IOC may not always want both sports, which are so similar, on the Games programme.

In a statement, the Tokyo Organising Committee, relieved that momentarily attention has shifted off its problems with building the main stadium for 2020, said the "package of events represents both traditional and emerging, youth-focused events, all of which are popular both in Japan and  internationally."

Certainly, one can see the youth focus in the other three chosen sports, especially roller sports and surfing. The IOC has become particularly concerned that the audience profile on television for the Games does not include enough youngsters.

Both park and street skateboarding have been promoted as part of the roller sports bid, with men and women taking part in both, while surfing is another activity popular with the young. It will take place on shortboards with wave machines in an enclosed area. This will standardise the waves, so removing the element of luck, which in open water makes competition so unequal. It means that the event can be held in future in cities, which are not on the sea, and where in any case, the conditions of the surf are not always favourable for the event.

The four-day climbing competition will also be held in artificial conditions, on man-made walls, with men's and women's events settled by a points system, worked out by three disciplines, lead, speed and bouldering.  There will certainly be those people in these two sports, who regard any competition as an anathema because they see them as an outdoor activity beyond any sporting constraints.

If all these recommended sports are indeed added to the Olympic programme, this will increase the number of gold medals by a further 18 and more significantly add an extra 474 competitors. Given that the total number of athletes at the Summer Games is limited to 10,500, this means that many sports will have to cut back on their present number taking part.

Qualification standards will have to be stiffened and many international federations will strongly resist this, arguing their special cases with the organising committee and the IOC. One can see some tough bargaining ahead.

 ** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · John Goodbody · Tokyo 2020

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