LANE ONE: With the Paris 2024 program about to be approved, how will Los Angeles embrace its historic “youth culture” for 2028?

Does Ultimate Frisbee have an Olympic future? Here's action from the 2012 World Championships between Japan and the U.S. (Photo: World Flying Disc Federation)

In December, the International Olympic Committee is expected to approve the competition program for the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in Paris in 2024.

The French organizers have proposed, in addition to the 28 core sports listed in Rule 45 of the Olympic Charter, four more sports with limited numbers of competitors:

Break Dancing: 2 events with 32 total athletes
Skateboarding: 4 events with 96 total athletes
Sport Climbing: 4 events with 72 total athletes
Surfing: 2 events with 48 total athletes (to be held in Tahiti!)

All together, these four sports account for 12 events and 248 athletes, which will come out of the 10,500 athlete quota for the 2024 Games. Skateboarding, Sport Climbing and Surfing are also scheduled to be part of the 2020 Tokyo Games, which requested five added sports – including Baseball/Softball and Karate – for its Games (which added a total of 18 events and 474 athletes).

The Paris proposal was provisionally accepted by the IOC membership in 2019 and final approval is expected to be a formality. The IOC sports directorate is in conversations with all of the International Federations about reductions in the number of athletes allowed in almost all sports to make room for these additions.

Complicating the picture are the situations in boxing and weightlifting, where the respective federations – AIBA and IWF – are so dysfunctional that both sports could be eliminated for 2024. Boxing has 286 athletes in its quota for 2020 and weightlifting has been reduced – due to its horrific doping history – to 196. That’s 482 in total and if both sports are kicked out, no other federations will have to reduce their quota for Paris.

It’s also important to note that these “added” sports for Tokyo and Paris do not share in the IOC’s distribution of television rights sales monies, as do the 28 “core” sports. They are in for one Games at a time, to be re-evaluated on a Games-by-Games basis.

So what about Los Angeles in 2028?

Having lived nearly all of my life in Southern California, it’s easy to see how some of the added sports for Tokyo and Paris would be a good fit, aesthetically and historically, for the 2028 Games in Los Angeles:

● Let’s start by including Baseball and Softball, both deeply ingrained in Los Angeles for decades. The enormous popularity of Major League Baseball’s Dodgers and Angels, and with the pre-eminent power in collegiate softball – UCLA – in the area, these are no-brainer additions to the 2028 program. Done.

● Although traces of what is now called “Breaking” have been identified as early as the 19th Century, it developed into a defined dance style in the U.S. in the late 1970s. It actually has a minor tie to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles; at the pre-Games welcome party for news media held on the outdoor pool plaza of the Bonaventure Hotel, the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee featured servers on roller skates with pitchers of drinks, and break dancers performing twists, head spins and popping-and-locking, coordinated with a live DJ. As the head of Press Operations for the Games, I gave several interviews to German media, all asking “Was ist das ‘break dancing’?”. I did my best to explain, in a few seconds, the free and open nature of the Southern California lifestyle.

Primarily an art form, “Breaking” is presented as a judged sport and will make its debut in Tokyo next year. Whether its inclusion actually expands the Olympic audience is certainly up for debate.

● Skateboarding has been a Southern California youth tradition since the 1960s and was immortalized in the Jan & Dean hit “Sidewalk Surfin‘” from 1964, which included

So get your girl and take her tandem down the street
Then she’ll know you’re an asphalt athlete …

Although approved for Tokyo and Paris, there is pushback from sectors of the skateboarding community against Olympic inclusion. One petition states “Skateboarding is not a ‘sport’ and we do not want skateboarding exploited and transformed to fit into the Olympic program. We feel that Olympic involvement will change the face of skateboarding and its individuality and freedoms forever. We feel it would not in any way support skateboarders or skateparks.”

But there can be little doubt that as part of the Southern California culture, it will be proposed for inclusion in 2028. It is also a judged sport, with multiple professional exhibitions and tours.

● Surfing, like skateboarding, has been a part of the SoCal cultural scene, but for about 100 years now. Made famous by Jan & Dean starting in the late 1950s, then guitarist Dick Dale and The Beach Boys in the 1960s, the “surf sound” has been inextricably tied to Southern California, making surfing a heavy favorite to be included in 2028.

Surfing as a sport has been well accepted for decades, but it is again a judged event, rather than scored. And whether it will actually add interest to the 2028 Games is again open to debate.

Sport Climbing, although part of the 2020 and 2024 programs, is not strongly tied to Southern California history. The first World Championships was held only in 1991 and the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) was founded in 2007. All of its World Championships have been held in either Europe or Asia.

There are advantages to this sport in that it is fairly easy to stage, requires only a large open space and could be contested inexpensively in any of the mid-sized college football stadiums in the Los Angeles area. It is also a scored and timed sport, rather than judged.

There are many other possibilities, and Karate has pledged an all-out effort to regain a spot in the Games for 2028. But as regards youth participation, family fitness and a history closely tied to Southern California, there is another option.

Already a part of the World Games, the multi-sport behemoth that will be held in Birmingham, Alabama in mid-2022, the World Flying Disc Federation – yes, Frisbee – is proposing to join the 2028 Games as well.

The concept for a light, flying disc apparently originated on an L.A. beach in the late 1930s and a model was commercially sold as early as 1948. The plastic “Frisbee” was created in 1957 and took off as a sporting item in the 1960s, quickly leading to the creation of competition teams in football-style and golf-style games.

In fact, 2016 Olympic javelin champion Thomas Rohler (GER) uses Frisbees in his training routine:

“For me, disc golf, is the best warmup or recovery game there is. I really appreciate the reverse movement for shoulder prehab. I got a new understanding of precision and flight characteristics when I started testing many different discs. I love the challenge of hitting a good throw with multiple discs. As a training aspect.”

Now, Ultimate Frisbee – with scoring similar to American Football, but with one point for catches in an end zone – is played in about 125 countries and the World Flying Disc Federation – founded in 1985 – has 88 member nations. The game has seven players per team and is played in 90-minute games on a 40×70-yard field plus end zones of 20 yards deep, a little smaller than a regulation American Football field. A tournament with eight countries could be held with mixed-gender teams, alternated between 4 men/3 women and 4 women/3 men; the total number of athletes would be 112.

Equipment costs are field markers and 100 Frisbees; you can buy a competition model today for $10-20 apiece.

This is a true Southern California sport, and has to be one of the least expensive to stage. It further offers the LA28 organizers an opportunity to have a sport in East Los Angeles, which hosted field hockey at East Los Angeles College and judo in Cal State Los Angeles in 1984, but is currently uninvolved in the 2028 plan. ELAC’s stately Weingart Stadium, now seating 22,355, could be used and also includes nearby space for warm-up and administration.

The WFDF is so excited about the possibilities for 2028 that it will stage its 2021 World Beach Ultimate Championships in the Los Angeles area in November; the area is already the site of two major annual beach Ultimate tournaments every January.

The LA28 organizers are already being bombarded with concepts for added sports for the third Los Angeles Games. Already committed to $160 million in funding for youth sports through the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, it will be fascinating to see how its drive for future fitness and family participation will be aligned with its choices for added sports to an Olympic program that may be more open than normal, especially if boxing and weightlifting are eventually excused.

Rich Perelman
Editor

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