The Games want to change in order to remain in tune with the times, and their direction is clear: They are to become more urban, trendier, younger. This does not necessarily mean that shooting, archery or modern pentathlon are to be shown to the door, but they will have to adapt.
The modern Olympics, conceived as an event by French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin, are to move further and further away from Athens 1896 and from the Games of the early 20th century. In those years they featured sack races or triple jump from a halt, and over the decades the Olympic program was polished to reach its current form.
“This is the power of the Games. Everyone has something he likes, whatever your age, whatever your taste is,” Christophe Dubi, sports director at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), told dpa.
Despite being only in his 30s, Dubi is the man whose desk gets swamped with requests, desires and pressures from international sports federations not yet represented in the Games.
“It’s important to keep that diversity,” said the Swiss.
Dubi thinks the Olympics have reached a limit at the current 26 sports — which may rise to a maximum of 28, — 300 disciplines and 10,500 athletes.
“We have to look at the constant evolution. It can be by the addition of new sports or new disciplines,” he said.
A lot of that was seen in the final days of the London 2012 Games, with the mounds and bends of BMX cycling or with mountain bikes crossing the English countryside in front of a young, enthusiastic crowd.
It also happened at the Winter Olympics, with the admission of the half-pipe in snowboarding, which took to the Olympics stars of the X Games like Shaun White, known as “The Flying Tomato.” In Rio 2016, featuring rugby sevens and golf, the Games will already have changed, and they may change even more for 2020 and 2024. Which sports get the Olympic nod and which are to make their exit is to be decided in Sept. 2013, at the IOC general assembly in Buenos Aires.
It will decide which are the 25 permanent sports at the Games, which means one of those currently in the program will be left out.
Rugby and golf will be played in 2020, while baseball and softball will seek to make a comeback as a single sport in its men’s and women’s varieties and there are good chances for wushu (a martial art), climbing and wakeboarding.
“Sports climbing is a relatively new sport. It is a lifestyle,” Dubi noted. “You have many youngsters around the world that live this outdoor type of life.” What about wushu? “Martial arts are something many people do for different reasons.
It is a big federation, big in China but with 120 federations around the globe. We saw wushu in the Combat Games in Beijing in 2010, very appealing,” Dubi said.
Wakeboarding is, according to him, “a young, dynamic and trendy sport, very spectacular of course.” The Swiss IOC official loves the collateral aspects of it — “music, tattoo, very spectacular, YouTube” — because he thinks they will help connect the Olympics with a younger audience and thus guarantee the event’s popularity, relevance and survival.
“Urban culture, this is what we are talking about here,” Dubi stressed. “Wakeboard has similarities to slopestyle in the Winter Games.”
“Evolution is not only by adding new things, it’s also the evolution of traditional sport itself, the presentation: the introduction of music, commentators,” he said. “It has to be more compact to be easier to consume by the audience.” Dubi’s eyes light up when he thinks about a project that still sounds like science fiction to many, even if the first attempt dates back to 1920: Olympic surfing.
“It is very popular, very spectacular. The problem is that they have a very limited number of national federations,” he said.
Surfing would need “constant waves and no weather dependency,” Dubi noted.
“The thing that could be great for the future is artificial waves, they have a number of [facilities] around the globe, they have one in Tokyo that works very well. This offers a big potential for the future, especially the fact that you can assure the competition wherever you are. This could bring surfing into stadiums,” he said.
Fernando Aguerre, an Argentine who lives in the United States and is president of the International Surfing Association (ISA), is convinced that such artificial waves, with a capacity to fill stadiums with tens of thousands of spectators, are the way to go in the sport, and perhaps enough to get it to the Olympics.
On the ISA website, Aguerre cites the surfing legend Kelly Slater to support this point. “I am sure wave parks are our way into the Olympic Games,” Slater said.