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Olympics see emergence of urban sports targeting younger fans


Climbing, a sport with a long history, is making its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. Of course, what we’re seeing is a reduced, more manageable version of the pursuit, far from the feats of those who’ve scaled the Himalayas or the north face of the Eiger. Competitors must climb a wall featuring hand and footholds. It’s a challenging and attractive event; an urban, youngster’s sport, just as skateboarding and 3v3 basketball are. Not so urban (or perhaps it is, given that many beaches are an extension of the city) but equally notable for being a sport popular among the youth is surfing. Together with karate, these are the new events in Japan. At the next Olympics, in Paris in 2024, we’ll also see break dancing.

The Olympics is simply moving with the times

For many purists, such additions have no place at the Olympics. I don’t share that belief. We still have swimming, which opens the Games, and athletics, which closes it. Alongside them, gymnastics. They’re the three core sports, the three legs of the table which, with that support, can hold anything. They’ve been the essence of the Games since the first modern Olympics, in Athens in 1896. That year, they were accompanied by cycling, fencing, weightlifting, wrestling and tennis. Everything else has been tacked on later. Some events have appeared and disappeared, or, like tennis, disappeared and then re-appeared. The Olympics have moved with the times.

The aim now is to attract a young, urban audience and, with them, the brands who make the gear for such sports. No objection here. Time will tell whether they’re a success - as I imagine they will be - or, as the years go by, they join the events that were part of it and no longer are (a long list that includes several shooting disciplines; puissance; tug of war; rope climbing; power boating; and rugby, recently revived in its seven-a-side form). Either way, the crux of the Games, the spine of the Olympic schedule, will still be swimming, gymnastics and athletics. There’s a lot to choose from and let everyone pick what most interests them. Let’s not be frightened by change. And, by the way, we may see esports before long, too.