The addition of five new sports onto this year’s Olympic roster has already gained Tokyo 2020 a reputation for “the most comprehensive evolution of the Olympic program in modern history”.
But how will the inclusion of skateboarding, surfing, karate, climbing and baseball influence a new generation of Olympic fans?
The Olympic debut of women’s skateboarding on July 26th produced the youngest podium in history. Not only are the athletes themselves part of the IOC’s desired younger audience, the new sports in question resonate more with Gen Z fans – with 21% of them saying they’d watch skateboarding, and 20% surfing [Rutgers Survey 2021].
Looking at the roster of new sports, it seems like the Olympics is attempting a hijack of ESPN’s X Games’ fanbase – which has seen a hefty digital audience growth across Gen Z-dominated channels. Whatever the take-up, you can guarantee most Gen-Z fans will be engaging with content across TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.
With the exclusion of baseball (because, let’s be honest, it’s really just returning after a 13-year hiatus), the sports of surfing, skateboarding and climbing are making a huge jump from counterculture to mainstream this summer – and there’s mixed feelings amongst their communities.
Skateboarding, surfing and climbing are alternative wave-makers with their own lingo, fashion and lifestyle attached – honed over time by trailblazers with a thing for breaking rules. Skateboarding has evolved from its ‘hanging out in the park’ roots to a sport reaching highly professional, technical heights.
But there’s no disputing these sports’ move into popular culture, which probably played a part in the IOC’s decision. Exposure to karate is at an all-time high thanks to the Cobra Kai Netflix series, and documentaries like ‘Free Solo’ have inspired fans old and new to get back on the climbing wall.
Tokyo 2020 has become the first ever gender-balanced Olympic Games in history, with 49% of athletes being female – and a schedule ensuring equal visibility between men’s and women’s events. The same push for gender representation is evident in the Paralympics this year, too.
U.S. Olympic women’s four rower Kendall Chase is one of many Gen Z and young millennial athletes using their platform not only to introduce their sport to new audiences, but to produce pro-female, pro-LGBTQ and pro athletes with disabilities content on TikTok. She even coined the hashtag #OlympiGays, growing a huge LGBT following in the process. Along with the trending hashtag #OlympicHERstory, focused on the young female athletes taking the world by storm in new disciplines, this year’s Olympics is aligning with the values of a new generation of fans more than ever before.
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