Are the Olympics cool enough for surfing? IOC says yes, adding 5 sports

The International Olympic Committee approved baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. 

Mark Rightmire/The Orange County Register/AP
Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach surfs during the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing competition in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Sunday, July 31, 2016. The IOC approved surfing as a medal event for the 2020 Olympics.

The 2020 Olympics will see five new sports, the International Olympic Committee formally announced Wednesday: baseball/softball (considered one sport), karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing will be added for the next Games' line-up in Tokyo.

The new additions are the first made under the IOC's Agenda 2020, a set of recommendations meant to keep the Games more affordable and sustainable for their host cities, as USA Today reports. 

"We have a real vision around what these new sports will add to the mix for Tokyo 2020, and it's a vision that isn't just limited to these five sports but what we want the Olympic program to do, what we want sport to be in the future of the Olympic Games," Kit McConnell, the IOC's sports director, said. "In many ways, the sports that have come in signal a vision for how we want to present sport and how we want to use sport to engage at future Olympic Games."

Previous changes to the Olympics line-up have focused on events meant to appeal to younger audiences, such as adding BMX biking at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Snowboarding made its Olympics debut in 1998, in Nagano, Japan. 

"We want to take sport to the youth," IOC President Thomas Bach said, according to USA Today. "With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them." 

However, some sports have found it challenging to balance a countercultural image with their embrace of the mainstream Olympics, as snowboarding did, for example, when it first debuted. Now, both skateboarding and surfing may find themselves in a similar spot.

Matt Warshaw, a historian for SURFER magazine, told the publication he was upset by the possibility of surfing in the Olympics, as it contributes to the "100-year mainstreaming of this wonderful sport."

"The thought of surfing in the Olympics brings a familiar dab of bile to my throat," he said. "Can we just all agree to pretend, for a little while longer, that surfing is a unique thing to do? That this difference has in fact always been its strength?"

Despite some resistance within the surfing community, many athletes were thrilled. 

"This is a huge moment for professional surfing and further highlights surfing's rise as a global participatory and spectator sport," said Paul Speaker, the chief executive of the World Surf League for professionals. 

Fernando Aguerre, the president of the International Surfing Association, said Tokyo would be a "game-changing moment" for his sport's athletes "to compete for their countries on the greatest sporting stage," as The Guardian reports. 

"We can't wait to see the world's best going head to head on the waves in Tokyo and millions of surfing fans reveling in the competition and the fantastic festival atmosphere of the beach party," Mr. Aguerre said. 

For some surfers, the only complaint was that the inclusion didn't come soon enough. 

"I don't know why they didn't include surfing at these Olympics," Brazilian pilot Marcio Veloso told the Associated Press as he strolled down the beach with his surfboard. Surfing is "the only Olympic sport I would really want to watch," he said. 

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press. 

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