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Tokyo set to propose new sports for 2020 Games

24 September 2015

TOKYO 2020: Eight sports remain in the running to be added to the world’s most prestigious sporting event, the Olympic Games.

With the Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC has allowed organising committees to make proposals for the inclusion of one or more additional events on the Olympic programme.

Tokyo 2020 is the first Organising Committee in line to take up the opportunity and on Monday will announce which sports it will recommend to the IOC to be included.

After 26 international federations submitted applications to be a part of the Games, eight were selected for consideration; Baseball/Softball, Ten-pin Bowling, Karate, Roller Sports, Sport Climbing, Squash, Surfing and Wushu.

As part of their selection process, Tokyo 2020 will take into account whether each of the sports will have a high appeal to youth, engage the Japanese population and new audiences worldwide, utilise existing infrastructure and also whether they can serve as a driving force to promote the Olympic movement. 

The recommendations put forward will be presented to the IOC who will make a final decision at the 129th IOC Session in Rio in August 2016.

We take a look at what impact being included in the Tokyo 2020 Games could have on the eight sports and how successful Australia could be.

Roller sports

Sure to have plenty of youth appeal, roller sports would introduce skateboarding and inline skating to the Olympic Games.

Australia has well over 8,000 competitive skateboarders hitting over 1500 skateparks around the country while there are also 350 competitive inline skaters, numbers that would see a significant boost if roller sports gets the nod from Tokyo 2020.

"We have more skateparks per capita than any other country," said former skateboarding World Champion Renton Millar.  

"It seems almost every suburb has at least an old beat up one, but we do have some of the best skateparks in the world. A lot of the global skate industry is made up of Australian companies, and we have the best skatepark builders in the world."

Millar believes that though the sport is already growing steadily, it could get even bigger if included in the Olympics. 

"I think skateboarding is healthier now than it has ever been because we just have so many skateparks.

"If skateboarding was to make the Olympics it would take the sport to a bigger audience leading to the the skateboarding economy will grow. That would mean that all sponsored skaters, whether competing in the Olympics or not, will get more support and more opportunities to devote themselves to skateboarding."

With the nation having some potential superstars coming through the ranks, Australia could be a favourite for gold come Tokyo.

"There is some great junior skaters like Keegan Palmer who at 9 won the Australian Championships for bowl skating in the under 18 division, and at 12 has won Open Amateur contests in Europe, Brazil, USA, and of course in Australia. I think he is the best transition skateboarder in Australia and he is basically a child that skates like a man.

"Poppy Ollson is also the girls over 15 World Amateur Champion in bowl.

"In street skating we also have a lot of really young shredders, you only have to look at the magazines to see the depth of talent Australia has."

Board member for Skate Australia Vivian Thelander was also excited at the prospect of Roller Sports inclusion at the Olympic Games.

“It’s a priceless experience, an opportunity that many have been dreaming of for a long time,” Thelander said.  

“It will inspire the kids of today to aspire to be the Inline Speed Skating and Skateboarding Champions of tomorrow.

“Everywhere you look skate parks are being built. State and Local Government bodies are constantly receiving requests to build and upgrade public skate parks to meet the demand for quality facilities.

“It’s accessible and inclusive for girls and boys alike.”

While Roller Sports has never been in the Olympics, inline skating has helped produce Australian Olympians.

Sophie Muir became the nation’s first ever Olympic speed skater when she competed at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games having previously been a world champion in inline skating.

Four years on World Junior Inline Skating Champion Daniel Greg competed in long track speed skating at the Sochi 2014 Games.

Surfing

With more than 80% of Australians living within 50km of the coastline it appears the sun burnt country was destined to be the world’s most accomplished surfing nation.

“Surfing Australia are ecstatic at the news of our nomination for Olympic inclusion at the 2020 Japan Olympic Games," said Surfing Australia Andrew Stark.

"Surfing's inclusion into the Olympics would be a dream come true for our sport.

"We have been striving for many years to achieve Olympic Games inclusion and we certainly believe the Olympics will be better off with our sports inclusion."

Australia has won 15 men’s (38% of the total titles conducted) and 19 women’s world championships (50% of the total titles conducted) since the first World Surfing Titles were held in Australia in 1964.

Of the 2.7 million surfers in Australia, 20,000 surf competitively with 3,000 of those juniors. Current World Tour athletes Sally Fitzgibbons, Tyler Wright, Julian Wilson and Owen Wright could all be challenging for a medal come 2020 while the depths in the nation’s junior ranks calls for plenty of optimism.

"Australia will most certainly be a genuine Gold medal prospect and we look forward to starting the journey towards Olympic glory in 2020," continued Stark.

In a boost for the sport’s further progress in the country Surfing Australia has just opened a high performance facility funded by the AIS’s Competitive Innovation Fund.

“The aim is to accelerate our athlete’s progression in aerial surfing which will have a massive impact come 2020,” said General Manager for High Performance & Sport Development Chris Symington.

On a global scale the sport continues to grow with the International Surfing Association recently adding its 97th member nation in Norway.

Wushu

Wushu will bid again for inclusion in the Olympics after being edged out in 2013 for permanent inclusion for the 2020 and 2024 Games by wrestling. The Chinese martial arts is practiced by more than 50,000 Australians from 400 organisations across the country and the sport is featured regularly at Asian multi-sport events like the Asian Games.

Kung Fu Wushu Australia President Walt Missingham says participants are drawn to the sport for a number of reasons.

“For some people there’s a cultural link, people with Chinese heritage. Some people drift into Wushu from gymnastics, others purely for recreation or self-defence,” he said.

“There’s no question at all that if Wushu was included at the Olympics we would see an increase in participation numbers locally.

“Going to the Olympics is something people from all different codes aspire to do.”

One of Wushu’s key selling points, especially in Australian landscape dominated by AFL and NRL, is that it can be practiced by all ages.

“You can be a career sportsperson. It’s good for all ages because children can take it up and then when you’re older you can do Tai Chi in the park.”

For now, the highest level an athlete can represent Australia at is the World Championships, held every two years. At last year’s World Traditional Championships in China, Australia broke through to score a record medal haul to place third in the world, including two gold medals to Edward Nugent and Sandra Cathro. Cathro was also named Australian 2014 athlete of the year, after only taking up the sport at the end of 2010. With her and Nugent’s overseas success, it’s a sign Australia could snag a medal if the sport makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Sport Climbing

Interest in Sport Climbing has been increasing rapidly in Australia in recent years with competitive athletes tripling since 2008.

“Sport Climbing is continuing to develop at a fast rate internationally and in Australia,” said Sport Climbing Australia President Rob LeBreton.

“Being included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games would be a massive boost for Sport Climbing in Australia. While most Australians are aware of climbing, they don't realise that it is a well-established sport in Europe, Asia and North America.”

Approximately 300,000 Aussies participate in climbing in a climbing gym and if the sport was to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Games these numbers could soar even higher.

“Becoming an Olympic sport would help people to see Sport Climbing as an accessible, engaging and highly enjoyable alternative to the more established sports,” continued LeBreton.

“Sport Climbing is accessible to all ages and to all body types and sizes.

“Add to this the personal development that comes with challenging fears and perceived risk in a very safe environment and the supportive nature of the climbing community and we believe that many Australians will realise that Sport Climbing is a great way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

The likes of Australian Open and Junior Lead Champion Campbell Harrison and five-time World Youth Championship competitor Roxy Perry would be in their climbing prime when the 2020 Games come around.

Tenpin Bowling

If medal chances are what you’re after, Australia need look no further than tenpin bowling’s dual World Champion Jason Belmonte. The professional bowler plays on tour in the United States and is known for his rare two handed "shovel" style to deliver the ball. Alongside Belmonte at the top of the sport is New South Welshman Sam Cooley who claimed bronze at last year’s World Championships.

Across the country there are 40,000 Australians who compete in league bowling every week, while the highest level locally is ranked events for amateurs.

On top of that Tenpin Bowling Australia says there are three and a half million people who bowl every year, which would put it in the top 10 sports on a social basis.

Tenpin Bowling Australia CEO Cara Honeychurch hopes Japanese fans will push for the sport’s inclusion.

“The sport is huge over there. There’s a professional tour in only two countries, the US and Japan. I’m hoping that that will persuade the Committee.”

She says it’s a sport for all ages.

“It’s a bit like golf, you can start around 10 when you can pick up a heavy object – the ball. Then you reach your peak when you’re mid 30s early 40s and then you’re still highly competitive when you’re 50.

“Plus it’s for all different shapes and sizes. It doesn’t matter how short or tall or what build you are it’s based on hand eye coordination.”

Softball/Baseball

With a combined membership across Australia of more than 120,000 athletes there is sure to be a cheer if the joint bid of softball and baseball is chosen by Tokyo 2020.  

The two international federations are bidding again for inclusion after missing out in 2013 for the 2020 and 2024 Games.

Baseball was included in the Olympic program from 1992 while softball was included from 1996, but both were dropped after the Beijing 2008 Games.

Australia’s women have claimed a medal at every Games in softball, with bronze at all bar Athens 2004 where the team managed silver. While the men’s baseball team best result is a silver behind the mighty Cubans in baseball at Athens 2004

Baseball President David Hynes says the Olympics is the biggest drawcard to boosting national participation.

“Going to an Olympics is something else and for the athletes it’s important to be able to represent their country at the highest level.

“The Olympics is the biggest show in town. To be a part of it would most likely boost numbers and the popularity of the sport.”

With the two sports often touted as Japan’s national pastime, softball fans hope that if included Australian players will be able to draw on their experience.

Current Australian Captain Stacey Porter spends part of the year playing in Japan.

While Hynes says baseball players love the cheering fans.

“Baseball is the national sport of Japan. Every time we play there we have huge crowds. It’s great to see.

“At the moment the highest echelon for players is the World Championships. But a lot of kids make the choice to go and play overseas if they’re good enough.”

Karate

With elite local athletes currently honing their skills for World Championships every two years, the Australian Karate Federation hopes this Olympic bid will see a new level of top level competition.

President Michael Katsiss says with around 40,000 members Australia-wide, plus hundreds of thousands of karate enthusiasts who he believes are un-registered, the sport is ready to reach the next level.

“If the sport is included in the Olympics I reckon that number would increase dramatically,” he said.

“At the moment it’s difficult because anyone who wants to compete at that top level has to travel overseas and we don’t have the millions of practitioners that are in Europe, Asia and South America.

“If we were included in the Games we’d be close to medals but it would be tough. It’d be a slow process just because of that distance but it’d be easier to have top level athletes.

And he says anyone debating about taking up the sport would be enticed by the prestige.

“No doubt more athletes thinking about taking up the sport would do it – without doubt that would get them over the line – it’s the dream of all younger people.”

Squash 

With just under 14,000 registered competitive players and a total 200,000 Aussies hitting the squash court each year there is plenty of interest in the sport in Australia.  

These high participation numbers have seen the nation win a host of medals in major competitions around the world.

Last year Australia won two gold and a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games with 2006 World Champion David Palmer a part of both the successful men’s doubles and mixed doubles teams in Glasgow.

"The Olympics would be the pinnacle for Squash players all over the world,” Squash Australia CEO Richard Vaughan said.

“It is the world’s healthiest sport according to Forbes magazine and it has a growing global footprint as demonstrated by the spread of countries on the world’s top 100 rankings.

“Athletes world-wide recognise Squash as a sport deserving Olympic status.”

10,000 juniors currently enjoy smashing the squash ball on a regular basis and these numbers would increase significantly if a pathway to the Olympic Games was forged.  

"Olympic recognition would be a huge boost in Australia building on the Sporting Schools programme and the rich medal history the sport has in the country.

"The IOC's decision has the entire sport on a knife edge."

Matt Bartolo & Annie Kearney
olympics.com.au

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