A few months ago, the sports of skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were making their debut at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Now, they appear to be a permanent part of the Olympic program.
The International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board, announced that, in concert with the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games organizing committee, those three sports would be added to the “initial sports program” for the 2028 Games, while three troubled sports were sidelined, at least for now: boxing, weightlifting and modern pentathlon. Said IOC President Thomas Bach (GER):
“The proposed inclusion of these youth-focused sports is based on the significant contribution to the overall success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, their commitment to innovation and the partnership expressed by LA28, and also recognizing the deep roots each of these three sports have in L.A. and in California.
“At the same time, the IOC and the L.A. organizing committee renewed their joint commitment to prioritize reducing the costs and complexity of the Games.”
All three were a small part of the Tokyo Games, with 40 athletes each for surfing and sport climbing and 80 for skateboarding. This was increased for Paris 2024 – still as added sports – to 88 for skateboarding, 68 for climbing and 44 for surfing.
This is important since Bach underlined that the overall athlete quota of 10,500 remains for Paris and Los Angeles, meaning the addition of these sports must take a bite out of other sports in terms of the number of athletes participating.
But not if boxing (252 athletes for 2024), weightlifting (120) or modern pentathlon (72) are reduced further or eliminated. Bach explained:
“For boxing, weightlifting and modern pentathlon, there will be a pathway for inclusion in this initial sports program. These three sports may potentially be included in the LA28 initial sports program by the IOC Session in 2023 if by then the respective international federation will demonstrate to the satisfaction of the IOC Executive Board that they have addressed the following areas.
“First, AIBA [boxing]. AIBA must demonstrate that it has successfully addressed the ongoing concerns around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes.
“Second, IWF [weightlifting]. IWF and its future leadership must demonstrate its transition towards compliance and effective change of culture. Furthermore, they must successfully address the historical incidence of doping in the sport and ensure the integrity, robustness and full independence of its anti-doping program.
“Third, and this is different, very much different from weightlifting and boxing. Third is UIPM [modern pentathlon]. UIPM must finalize its proposal for the replacement of horse riding and for the overall competition format. They must demonstrate a significant reduction in cost and complexity and improvements across the areas of safety, accessibility, universality, appeal for youth and general public.”
These “pathways” will be a tall order for all three sports. Bach further explained that AIBA still has major questions to answer, and he said that “serious concerns remain until today” about the IWF and its continuing governance issues, including not being able to hold elections on its own announced timetable.
Bach’s comments about modern pentathlon were especially grave:
“UIPM must finalize its proposal for the replacement of horse riding and for the overall competition format. They must demonstrate a significant reduction in cost and complexity and improvements across the areas of safety, accessibility, universality, appeal for youth and general public.”
These comments will come as a huge disappointment to many pentathletes who have protested the replacement of riding with another discipline – and are pursuing the issue with the Court of Arbitration for Sport – with a tacit acceptance by the IOC of the federation’s proposed change in the sport.
Moreover, IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell (NZL) made enlightening comments on the inclusion of the three new sports that underline the problem for modern pentathlon and perhaps even boxing and weightlifting:
“They are bringing new communities of athletes, young people around the world into the Olympic Movement, they are globally popular, they are easily accessible around the world and they have a global audience as well. … ‘[W]e’ve seen the success on the Olympic stage, all three brought the best athletes they have, all three had a really strong impact in terms of broadcast and digital engagement, all of these indicators around the Games and reached out to new audiences.”
What can modern pentathlon say about its global audience and broadcast and digital engagement?
The 28-sport (and possibly 31-sport) LA28 sports program, however, is set to possibly undergo more changes. Said Bach:
“LA28 has still the possibility to propose additional sports in 2023. At the same time, the Executive Board agreed to advance the decision about disciplines for each sport to be included in the Olympic program from December 2024 to mid-2023 to provide earlier and early certainty – in particular to the athletes, but also to all the NOCs, IFs and the organizing committee.”
So, the Los Angeles organizers can still ask for other sports, with baseball and softball widely expected to be requested – given their popularity in the area – and perhaps others. The federations for cricket, break dancing, karate, mixed martial arts, sambo, plus a sport which originated in the Los Angeles area – Ultimate Flying Disc – and many others are all asking for a place on the program.
Further to the 10,500-athlete limit, the IOC’s advanced review of the disciplines list could see events possibly removed from the 2028 program. For example, gymnastics includes the much-loved Artistic competitions for men and women, but there are also the less-popular Rhythmic and Trampoline disciplines. Do they survive? Cycling has events in road, track, BMX and mountain bike, and what about the events in weight-class sports or the programs in sailing and shooting, and others?
Bach also noted that the IOC is monitoring the discussions within FIFA for a possible biennial men’s World Cup, which could possibly start in 2028 and place it in the same summer timeframe as the LA28 Games. Bach said he had not been in consultation with FIFA about this, but if the change in schedule was adopted by FIFA:
“So we would have to study, then, what this would mean for the availability of the best players and then the IOC then will have to consider the consequences of such a situation but at this moment, this would be mere speculation.”
The message in all this is that the LA28 Games are getting closer, quickly, and just as the 1932 and 1984 Games looked different than their predecessors, so will 2028, with many more changes to come.
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