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In search of the crucial youth market

Published on November 29th, 2021

Whether the preference is to bash World Sailing, which is often not hard, or to cheerlead for the venerable Finn Class, the process for selecting the events and equipment for Paris 2024 Olympics was not without peril.

But with clear directives from the International Olympic Committee, it was the heavy singlehander, used in the Olympics since 1952, which held the short stick. The writing was on the wall for those that chose to read it.

The selection process made for lively debate, and much mud throwing. For those that ignored the context, they also ignored the effort to retain the class which had advanced so many great sailors. But the square peg and the round hole remained, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was its last hurrah.

Amid the context was how Sailing, as an Olympic sport, was not alone. The IOC was asking all Olympic sports for revisions. In this report by Michael Pavitt for insidethegames, he highlights the changes occurring in other sports:

Outgoing International Canoe Federation (ICF) President José Perurena made it clear he believes changes to the Olympic program are afoot.

Perurena told the ICF Congress that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was in a “moment of change”, before highlighting recent changes to the program.

He noted the debut of 3×3 basketball and BMX freestyle disciplines at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, as well as the inclusion of additional sports for Paris 2024 with breaking, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing making the Games more extreme in pursuit of younger viewers.

The uncertainty surrounding crisis-hit sports such as boxing and weightlifting was also highlighted, with Perurena concluding that some sports may be taken out of the Olympic Games program in the future.

Perurena warned the ICF needed to evolve and be ready to respond to any requests from the IOC, such as the decision to propose extreme canoe slalom for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in place of two sprint canoe events.

“We have to evolve,” Perurena said. “In Paris organizers wanted to introduce extreme sports, so to do that we had to reduce some disciplines.

“We have to be ready to the fact the IOC might ask us to introduce some changes, as has happened in other federations. We cannot lose our quotas and we cannot lose our medals.

“To the IOC the opinion of the group between 18 and 29 is important. We need to go in this direction. It is stupid to say these are our disciplines, this is good, this is good.

It is worth noting as well that World Rowing President Jean-Christophe Rolland reiterated at their Congress the desire to drop two lightweight rowing categories for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games to add coastal rowing competitions.

The conclusion is that change of some form is coming, with International Federations having to respond to the IOC’s pursuit of younger viewers.

While the likeliest changes may be in disciplines as Perurena suggested, would it be a shock if the IOC opts to replace under-performing sports from the program entirely?

The quest to have youthful eyes watching Olympics has been best displayed through the additional sports at Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024. For a start, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing will be making their second consecutive Summer Olympic Games appearance in the French capital.

With Los Angeles and Brisbane the next two destinations, the sports seem primed for further appearances in the future.

Mirroring the comments of Perurena today, IOC sport director Kit McConnell said the IOC would also drill down on data from Tokyo 2020 which would guide International Federations and form part of the analysis undertaken by the IOC Program Commission.

At the time the Los Angeles 2028 program was due to be set in 2021, which understandably seems to have taken a backseat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the comments made by International Federations at their Congresses, the impression is that an update may not be too far away.

IOC President Thomas Bach has issued the call “change or be changed” on many occasions in the past.

With Bach now in his final term and leading a compliant membership, I wonder whether the federations who have failed to change might find themselves changed for Los Angeles 2028 as the IOC goes in search of that crucial youth market.

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