A giant leap for the IOC, small steps for mankind

The Olympic Games, the IOC and the Olympic Movement in general are in the early phases of a process of dramatic change. They just haven’t fully realized it yet…

Maybe that statement is a bit harsh. I do not deny that a number of sports officials on all levels have realized a need for reform in several areas. But a coordinated approach, a wide-ranging comprehensive reform, is still missing. Instead, individual ideas are being discussed, some of them implemented and then promoted as ‘the giant leap’. The dual host city ‘election’ for 2024/28 is taking shape and the most likely order at the moment (i.e. Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028) is no big secret anymore. As I’ve said before (see Double, double, toil and trouble), an interesting idea, but right now mere cosmetic, born out of sheer panic over the disastrous host city election process 2024, and hardly solving any of the fundamental problems of the process itself.

But let’s turn to a more positive example. An area where, although far from the ‘giant leap’, some real effort for the benefit of the Games and (most) athletes seems visible. The Olympic Programme is at the heart of the Olympic Games. It defines which sports, disciplines, and events can proudly call themselves ‘Olympic’. It constitutes and creates the most visible part, the ‘look’ of the Games. This look has changed during the 111 years of (modern) Olympic history in often fascinating, sometimes surprising and not always sustainable ways, as any good Olympic history book will tell you (see Treasure hunt). And now this look is about to change again.

The IOC Executive Board has approved significant changes to the programme for Tokyo 2020, citing the goals of gender equality, more appeal to the youth, and ‘urban innovation’ (whatever that might be…) as main motivations behind the move. A total of 42 events will be added, including those in the five new (temporary) sports on the programme,

  • Baseball/Softball (the first for men, the latter for women, but counted as one sport)
  • Karate (one Kata and three Kumite competitions each)
  • Skateboarding (events in ‘Park’ and ‘Street’)
  • Sports Climbing (Bouldering, Lead & Speed Combined competitions)
  • Surfing (one Shortboard event each)

but changes also affecting Aquatics, Archery, Athletics, Basketball, Boxing, Canoe, Cycling, Fencing, Judo, Rowing, Sailing, Shooting, Table Tennis, Triathlon, Weightlifting, and Wrestling. 11 events in some of these sports will be removed, which doesn’t really sound like the problem of the Games growing too large is being addressed at all. On a closer look however, there are other changes and alterations leading to an effective reduction of the number of athletes participating by 285, without removing too many events and thereby taking away any chances of qualifying for those athletes.

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Gender equality really is the big issue here, as four sports (Canoe, Rowing, Shooting, Weightlifting) will reach gender balance in the number of events and six (Canoe, Judo, Rowing, Sailing, Shooting, Weightlifting) in the number of athletes, for the first time. In total 48,8% of athletes at the Games of the XXXII Olympiad will be female, compared to 44,2% in London, five years ago. 18 mixed events will be held, including team events in Archery and Judo, and a mixed relay in Swimming, Athletics, and Triathlon. Basketball will see the addition of 3×3-tournaments, something we used to call ‘Streetball’ in my youth. And BMX riders will compete in a new ‘Park’ event.

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Last but not least, Fencing will finally have all six team competitions included in the Games. So far (since the inclusion of the women’s sabre event in 2004) only two team events per gender were held, alternating between the weapon categories, and I never really understood why… The IOC stopped short, on the other hand, of including the Synchronised Swimming mixed duet and the High Dive, both of which had been proposed by the governing body FINA.

It should also be noted, that all of these events (except for the five new sports…) do not require any additional venues and should therefore not cause additional financial burdens for the Tokyo 2020 organisers. As I said, maybe all of this is not a ‘giant leap’, but several (not so) small steps. A lot of issues will have to be addressed in the years to come, and you can be sure that I’ll talk about them here. But right now it seems that at least on this issue the IOC is heading in the right direction.

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