Inside Track

What is Agenda 2020 & Why Do We Have Six New Olympic Sports?

Wouldn’t it be super cool if an Olympic host country could handpick a few of their favorite sports to add to the mix of events? A little extra oomph that personalizes an Olympics and attracts new audiences at the same time?

Well, you don’t have to dream any longer, because it’s a reality that will unfold for the first time in Olympic history when the games begin in Tokyo.

New rules implemented by the International Olympic Committee are part of a strategic plan called Agenda 2020, allowing host cities to propose and plan for new sports that are part of an effort to build awareness for their games and honor their country and host city. It’s also part of a larger strategy that helps set new standards for inclusivity and gender-balanced, youth-focused sports.

In some instances, it’s an opportunity to re-introduce sports that used to be part of the games (like baseball) and introduce new ones that are gaining immense popularity with younger fans (like skateboarding and surfing). Skateboarding was initially short-listed to the Olympic field back in 2015. It helps that the sport has gained prominence on ESPN for their X-Games and Tony Hawk, one of the NBC correspondents in Tokyo, skated to some hot tunes at the closing ceremonies for the Olympics in Atlanta.

The Paris Summer Olympics in 2024 selected four new sports including breaking, sport climbing, skateboarding, and surfing. What’s breaking you ask? Well, you probably recognize it as short-form for breakdancing, which got its start in the Bronx in the 1970s before catching major popularity across the world. In the 2018 Youth Olympics, breaking featured dancers 16-18 in a head-to-head competition showcasing personality, creativity, musical fundamentals, and technique.

The Tokyo Games have decided to add six new sports to the mix of the 339 medal events scheduled over the course of the games. The new Tokyo events include baseball, softball, skateboarding, karate, surfing, and sport climbing. Karate is an example of a host country paying homage to a sport that is important to its heritage. The sport started in Okinawa in 1868 and became immensely popular following World War II. It will remain a one-off sport unique to the Tokyo games. Two disciplines of karate will be featured in Tokyo including Kata (where athletes are judged on technique) and Kumite (where athletes fight head-to-head).

New Olympic Sports Shine Light on Other Sports Potentials

These new additions come just as the sports world has seen huge shifts in the style and type of sports people are playing—mainly younger audiences and athletes. One of the biggest challenges sports face right now is attracting and building a loyal audience of young fans.

Esports is one of the most popular sports over the past couple of years. Currently, industry predictions show that esports could be worth upwards of $1.6 billion by 2026, up from $691 million in 2016—a 15.1% growth rate.

Esports’ success has been fueled in part by partnerships of some major sports celebrities like Michael Jordan and prime-time features of competition on social media channels and the likes of ESPN. Major sporting teams at the NBA level are investing in their own esports teams that are counterparts to the ones that compete on the hardwood. Specialized stadiums have been planned or created where players can compete in front of thousands of fans.

While the esports moment has seemingly arrived around the world, the idea of seeing it at the Olympics remains up in the air.

If esports does make a debut at an upcoming Olympics (either as a main event or a country’s preferred addition), it will have to be tested first. The ongoing Olympic Virtual Series happening right now seems to be the perfect test. Currently, virtual players and teams are competing in five Olympic sports including baseball, cycling, motorsport, rowing, and sailing. These competitions are no slouch-fest. Cycling competitions happen in Zwift, and players are able to pair their bike and bike trainer to a mobile device or their computer.

Right now, the International Olympic Committee seems focused on athletic competition of the non-virtual kind. “I think it’s fair to say that we remain a sport-based and sport-focused organization,” the IOC’s sports director, Kit McConnell, told The Verge in an interview. “We’re looking to keep the Olympic Virtual Series focused around sport titles.”

Adapting to Change in Bid to Improve Future

Sports is all about adapting to change. These days, it’s not uncommon for the globe’s biggest athletes to turn to virtual gaming and esports during their downtime. It’s the perfect way to unwind and connect with players (and even fans), and it’s even shown potential for helping players train and prepare.

Back to the IOC, it seems they’re at least keeping an open mind and monitoring the esports community to see where opportunities present themselves.

“We don’t think there’s any mutual exclusivity between the esport community and the traditional sport community,” McConnell said.

The IOC can at least look to some uber-successful partnerships in the real world for a benchmark. Overwatch has taken the World Cup format that is so popular in soccer and adapted that into a tournament where players are selected from countries across the globe for a winner-take-all competition.

One place to keep an eye on is the preparation for the Los Angeles Summer Games in 2028—a place that is a major hotspot in social media, technology, and emerging sports. The Olympic Virtual Series could be a much bigger platform for non-medal events when the games arrive in Southern California and it seems an intriguing test ground for some sort of representation as a live, physical event.

You can be sure we’ll be following these updates and will keep you posted when we learn more. In the meantime, what would you be excited to see with esports as an Olympic competition? Share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn!

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