It’s not been a secret that obstacle sports have been aiming for Olympic inclusion, with both the international governing body for Modern Pentathlon, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UPIM), and the international governing body for Gymnastics, Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), both developing their own events based on obstacle course competitions which were submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for consideration in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
However after the IOC announced the programme for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics earlier this month, obstacle sports were notably not on the list of new events added to the Olympics.
The IOC described the new additions to the Olympic programme as introducing “youth and urban innovations” to the Olympics, aiming to significantly improve gender equality and reduce the overall number of athletes in the Olympics, reducing the footprint of the Games. IOC President Thomas Bach said: “The fascinating new events that we approved today, together with the five new sports that were added to the Tokyo 2020 programme last year, represent a step-change in the Olympic programme. I am delighted that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will be more youthful, more urban and will include more women.”
The five new sports and fifteen new events can be seen in the infographic below.
The decision will lead to a net increase of 15 events, an overall reduction of 285 athletes from Rio 2016, and the highest representation of female athletes in Olympic history.
Four new International Federations (IFs) will move to gender-balanced in events for the first time (Canoe, Rowing, Shooting and Weightlifting). In terms of athletes, six IFs will move to gender balance for the first time (Canoe, Judo, Rowing, Sailing, Shooting and Weightlifting). At discipline level, gender balance is achieved in BMX Racing, Mountain Bike and Freestyle Wrestling.
The programme also includes youth-focused and urban-based additions such as Basketball 3×3 and BMX Freestyle, on top of Sport Climbing and Skateboarding. Basketball 3×3 was a successful innovation at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore 2010 and Nanjing 2014. Sport Climbing and Skateboarding were proposed along with Baseball/Softball, Karate, and Surfing by Tokyo 2020 last year. The next edition of the Summer Youth Olympic Games, which will take place in Buenos Aires in October 2018, will already feature BMX Freestyle, Karate and Sport Climbing as well as several new innovative urban sports such as Breakdance and Roller Sports.
As reported in Sports Illustrated, Modern Pentathlon, a somewhat obscure but established Olympic sport, adapted OCR into its Laser Run event, part of Modern Pentathlon’s Mixed Relay events in partnership with the International Obstacle Sports Federation (OSF), potentially fast-tracking OCR for Olympic inclusion.
In the wake of the IOC decision not to include Laser Run in Tokyo 2020, UPIM issued the following press release.
Today the International Olympic Committee has not accepted a request, submitted by the UIPM Executive Board after several years of promotion, to include the Modern Pentathlon Mixed Relay at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
We respect the decision and recognise that there was strong competition for additional events. At the same time I speak on behalf of the global UIPM movement by expressing our unhappiness that this opportunity to incorporate a format that was gender-equal and highly compliant with IOC Agenda 2020 been overlooked. We will study in detail the feedback from the IOC.
The Mixed Relay has already added value to the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 (Singapore) and 2014 (Nanjing) and will do so again in 2018 (Buenos Aires), and it has become a cornerstone of UIPM’s global competition programme during the past 10 years.
The Union is proud of the growth of the Mixed Relay and the gender equality that now exists in Modern Pentathlon and we will continue to promote this format which offers so many benefits to young and aspiring Olympic athletes, spectators, sponsors and broadcasters.
We will be ready for any opportunity to promote the Modern Pentathlon Mixed Relay as a new feature and an asset to the Olympic Games in future years.
In researching this article, ORNZ was not aware of a public statement having been released from the OSF.
Gymnastics developed its own sport based on obstacle competitions. Proposed to be a new gymnastics discipline, it will comprise two formats: obstacle course sprint and obstacle course freestyle – both based on parkour.
The day following the decision from the IOC not to include the yet unnamed gymnastics discipline, FIG issued a press release. The release covered updates on the development of the new gymnastics obstacle discipline, but did not directly address the rejection from the Olympic programme. Instead the release elaborated on plans for the development of parkour.
FIG’s actions to incorporate parkour into the sport of gymnastics have been met with heavy criticism from the parkour community. Leading into the IOC meeting to decide the 2020 programme, Parkour UK contacted the IOC to inform them of FIG’s “fully substantiated encroachment and misappropriation” of parkour and freerunning and failure to follow recommendations made by the recent IOC commissioned report regarding the inclusion of action sports, such as parkour, into the Olympics.
Multiple parkour organisations including various national governing bodies have issued open letters criticising FIG’s interest in parkour – these include but are not limited to NZ Parkour, Australian Parkour Association, Parkour UK, Polish Parkour, Parkour Argentina, and Parkour Singapore. The Finnish, German, Swedish and Swiss communities have also issued their condemnation of FIG’s actions.
FIG dismissed this criticism in their press release, stating “Whilst FIG is aware that the inclusion process of this discipline does not meet with unanimity among the community of [parkour] practitioners, with much of it reasonably based on uncertainty and concern over respect for work already accomplished, a significant portion of the negative feedback also relies on bias and misinformation indiscriminately conveyed on social networks.”
FIG remains undeterred from their plan to incorporate parkour into gymnastics, planning to stage a series of Parkour World Cups in 2018 and 2019 together with a first FIG World Championships planned in 2020. The international parkour community and Parkour UK have issued several invitations to FIG to “meet to discuss our fundamental and legitimate concerns” but these have and continue to be “wilfully ignored” said Eugene Minogue Chief Executive of Parkour UK.
The Future of Obstacle Sports in the Olympics
While the two events based on obstacle competitions proposed for the Olympics were not accepted for the Tokyo 2020 programme, many within the OCR community have set their sights on one day bringing OCR to the Olympic stage. As commented in the Sports Illustrated article on OCR’s Olympic potential, “In the past seven years, OCR has gone from relative obscurity to the No. 1 mass participation sport in the world, according to the USAOCR, ‘larger than marathons, half marathons and triathlons combined.’ ” Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before a sport with this level of growth reaches the international and Olympic level. But is this the path OCR should be going down?