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Breakdancing. Skateboarding. Climbing. Surfing.
These are the new sports we may see at the 2024 Summer Olympics, per a proposal that host city Paris submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week. This request falls in line with the IOC’s goal of making the Games more youth-focused, gender-balanced, and more urban, Kit McConnell, IOC Sports Director, tells SELF.
We chatted with McConnell to learn more about this shift in direction for the Olympics, the details of Paris’s proposal, exactly how new sports are added to the Olympics, and other highlights in the works for the 2024 Games.
First, here’s a little context on how new sports are added to the Olympics.
Starting with the 2020 Games in Tokyo, the IOC made major changes to the format and framework of the Olympics to allow for the inclusion of more sports. Prior to the 2020 Tokyo Games, every edition of the Olympic Games had been capped at 28 sports, a list determined solely by the IOC. This meant that “to bring a new sport in, we actually had to take a sport out of the program,” explains McConnell.
To allow for more inclusion in the Games, the IOC announced in 2014 a number of changes to the structure and format of the Olympics that would begin in 2020. The biggest update: removing the maximum number of sports per Games and replacing it with a maximum number of overall athletes and maximum number of events. This allows the flexibility to introduce new sports without cutting existing ones, explains McConnell.
Then, when it comes to actually selecting the new sports, the IOC determined that instead of making this decision solo, they’d rely on input from the host city. The goal is to include sports that fit the host city’s vision for the Games as well as sports that are particularly popular in the host country. The only requirement for proposed sports, says McConnell, is that they have an international federation recognized by the IOC, which helps the IOC build appropriate qualification systems. Beyond that, it’s really up to the city.
Tokyo proposed five new sports—baseball/softball and karate (both of which are very popular in Japan), plus skateboarding, climbing, and surfing—and all were approved.
As for Paris, the French capital “came up with a vision of their edition of the Games in 2024 that is really focused on reaching out to young people, on having an Olympic Games in an urban environment, on gender equality, and on being really engaging,” says McConnell. From there, Paris considered which sports could fit into that vision, he explains. Roughly 15 different sports, including squash, billiard sports, and chess, submitted proposals to Paris with the hopes of making the city’s shortlist. Paris’s final recommendation, says McConnell, was based on what they felt best fit their vision of the games, and happened to include three sports already on the list for Tokyo.
Now that Paris has submitted its proposal, the IOC will evaluate the four sports, and after several layers of review, will announce its final decision in December 2020.
As mentioned, three of the four proposed sports—skateboarding, surfing, and climbing—are already on the program for Tokyo, which means the IOC already has a solid understanding of the factors that would make the sports good Olympic contenders, like their global popularity, how competitions are run, venue requirements, and so on. Breakdancing, though not on the list for Tokyo, was part of the 2018 youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, so it’s also already well-known to the IOC, explains McConnell.
That said, the IOC will still carefully evaluate the four sports for Paris 2024, considering the number of athletes who participate in the sports around the world, the number of people watching and engaging with the sports, the venues required to host the sports, and more, says McConnell. After several layers of internal review, the IOC will announce its decision in June of which sports will be provisionally included in Paris. They’ll then wait until December 2020 to announce the final event list for 2024, explains McConnell, which will give them the chance to evaluate how well the new sports are received at the Tokyo Games.
Surprisingly, there is no such thing as a “permanent” Olympic sport.
Even if the new sports are officially added to the 2024 Games (crosses all fingers and toes for breakdancing), they aren’t guaranteed a spot at future Olympic Games. “The proposals for Paris are specific to the Paris 2024 Games,” says McConnell. Los Angeles, host of the 2028 Summer Games, will have the same opportunity to propose new sports that reflect the city’s vision for the Games and what’s popular in the United States, he explains. Said vision may not include Paris’s same picks.
In fact, none of the current Olympic sports are guaranteed a spot in future Games. That’s because the IOC constantly re-evaluates the line-up. “We go through a process of formally approving the inclusion of every sport for each edition of the Games,” explains McConnell. Obviously the inclusion of core sports, like swimming, isn’t put into question at every Games, he says, but technically “there is no such thing as a ‘permanent sport.’”
Other changes we may see at the 2024 Games include mass participation events and immersive tech experiences.
When submitting its proposed new sports, Paris also announced several additional updates it hopes to implement at the 2024 Games in an effort to create a more connected event.
The first: mass participation events that allow spectators to not just watch the games, but actively engage with them, explains McConnell, like inviting thousands of spectators from around the world to race on the Olympic marathon course shortly after the Olympians tackle it themselves. On top of that, Paris hopes to offer immersive, electronic versions of Olympic events, like cycling and sailing, that allow people around the world to virtually partake in Olympic events themselves, he explains.
The primary goal with all of these changes is to make the Olympics more inclusive and engaging for everyone, says McConnell. So regardless of which sports make the cut, we’ll have lots to celebrate and cheer for in Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022, Paris 2024, and beyond.
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