International Surfing Association president Fernando Aguerre tells us why his sport can make the transition from lifestyle pursuit to a surprise package at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
For any aspiring sport trying to get onto the core programme of the Games, referencing the success of snowboarding’s Olympic pathway is the tried-and-trusted campaign pitch to the IOC.
Since its arrival at the 1998 winter Olympics in Nagano, the success of snowboarding’s integration into the Olympic fold has helped the IOC with one of its primary objectives; lowering the average age of their supporters.
For those who have covered the sports bidding process over the past three cycles, the snowboard angle is becoming a touch clichéd, but that has not stopped surfing from putting it front-and-centre of their pitch. “Surfing has a unique and modern blend of sport performance, lifestyle and culture that will make it one of the biggest draws at Gamestime,”
Aguerre told SportBusiness International. “With its dynamic energy, surfing is extremely exciting to watch in person or on television. “Through surfing, Tokyo 2020 has an opportunity to engage and connect with new audiences and the wider youth population in Japan by showcasing a sport that will make a dramatic difference to the fan experience.
“Just as Nagano dramatically transformed the face of the winter Games with the introduction of snowboarding, so would Tokyo change the summer Games with the introduction of surfing.”
Boys with Toys
Of the 35 million surfers in the world, an estimated 14 million are aged 12-24. “Surfing would contribute to the commercial success of the Olympic Games with merchandising and licensed products that appeal to youthful fans around the world,” added Aguerre. “With the vast amounts of surfing specialised websites, social media channels, magazines, newspapers and TV networks, most of them focused on the youth demographic, surfing has the ability to provide huge exposure for Tokyo 2020 among young people globally.
“With more than two million people practicing various forms of surfing and stand-up paddle (SUP) in Japan and many millions more enjoying the beach culture, the country has a thriving surfing community that is already very active.” ISA is also hoping to push the globalisation angle at this month’s pitch, with recent advances into Asia, Africa and South America culminating in the ISA having 96 Member Federations (MF) across five continents and 35 million people who surf in more than 100 countries around the world.
Aguerre believes they also have a trump card in the shape of their proposed surf parks.
“State-of-the-art wave pool technology and new, cost-effective surf parks are revolutionising surfing, opening up the sport to many more fans in urban and rural areas,” he said.
“A surf park constructed in Tokyo would bring many benefits to the region. A fully functioning facility could be in place in central Tokyo in advance of 2020, creating a sustainable profit centre years before the Games start. It could also be built using private funding – reducing the burden on the organising committee and ensuring that all venues around the world are consistent with one another.
“The legacy of a permanent surf park will be a self-sufficient sporting venue that welcomes thousands of participants and spectators generating revenues for the years ahead."
EXPERT VIEW – Paul Dunphy
Major Events Consultant, SportBusiness Intelligence
This is a sport I would love to see one day in the Olympics as it has strong connections with the natural environment and with its youthful persona would do wonders for the Olympic brand.
The ISA has been working behind the scenes for many years now trying to gain Olympic entry and Tokyo 2020 might be its best chance of making it.
It has a strong following in Japan with over two million young people practicing various forms of surfing and stand-up paddle. It would truly add a ‘cool’ element to the Tokyo 2020 games and would provide evidence to the world that the IOC is serious about connecting and improving its relationship with the world’s youth in the future.
Surfing deserves serious consideration and has to be one of the front runners for contention to make the final cut.