The Olympics Want to Be Cool Again
A move to include skateboarding in the 2020 Olympics has the international skateboarding community giving a collective, “Whoooooooooaaaa, dude, wait what?”
By Will Strecker, University of Texas at Austin
The 2016 Summer Olympics are just around the corner. You know what’s not just around the corner? The 2020 Summer Olympics. But that’s what I’m going to talk about.
Big things are slated to happen in the 2020 Summer Olympics. And by “big things,” I mean that there a few new sports that may or may not appear in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Surfing, baseball, softball, karate, sports climbing and skateboarding are all potential additions to the Olympic program, and in August, ahead of the 2016 Olympics, a final decision will be made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as to which of these sports will officially become Olympic sports for 2020. Sick!
Or, maybe not so sick. An online petition surfaced shortly after the announcement that skateboarding was being considered as an Olympic sport, asking that the IOC not add skateboarding to the program. As of February 10th, the petition has received over 6,500 signatures.
According to the petition, those that signed fear that skateboarding would be “exploited and transformed to fit into the Olympic program,” and that it would “change the face of skateboarding and its individuality and freedom forever.” Also, the petitioners argue, skateboarding is not a “sport,” per se, because there are no teams, no coaches and nothing that really makes standard sports, well, sports.
Gary Ream, the president of the International Skateboarding Federation, told the Los Angeles Times that the sport “is not all about competition; it’s also a lifestyle.” This backlash has reverberated across the entire world of skateboarding, and led some of the most prominent skateboarders to come out and voice their opinions on the matter.
Tony Hawk, skateboarding legend and well-known man-bird, actually isn’t opposed to skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport. Mr. Hawk believes that the Olympics would bring a newfound relevancy to the sport—a sport he single talonedly helped to reach the current status it currently has around the world.
The winged man told Time that their potential Olympic berth is a “great opportunity for our sport and the skaters,” though he also iterated the importance of preserving the “unique culture of skateboarding which makes our sport so appealing and relevant.” Instead of a hindrance to the culture surrounding it, Mr. Hawk sees Olympic skateboarding as an opportunity to grow the appeal of the sport. Wise words from a bird.
While taking a more progressive approach to the idea, the proprietor of the Pro Skater video game franchise also wisely notes that the Olympics need skateboarding more than skateboarding needs the Olympics.
Amidst declining interest from the younger demographics in the quadrennial event, Hawk knows that the Olympics must do something to appeal to a younger generation. Ethan Hawk’s cooler, more rebellious doppelganger believes that “Skateboarding’s popularity is solidified, for the most part, in a lot of countries,” and the Olympics will do little to increase the sport’s popularity.
If, by this point, you find yourself wondering if and how the sport would adapt to the Olympics, and you also find yourself thinking, “Hmm has anything like this ever happened before?” I have answers for you.
That answer is yes, something like this has happened before, and in most of our lifetimes, actually. The 1998 Olympics introduced snowboarding into the program, and since then snowboarding’s popularity has skyrocketed, becoming the best winter sport to ever exist. Like skateboarding, snowboarding is seen as an activity for mostly miscreants, and its adoption into the Olympics was met with similar backlash from snowboarders.
Although the sport’s popularity has risen since its induction, and prissy skiers have chilled the f*ck out about it, the actual sport itself hasn’t benefitted much from the exposure. Snowboarding-specific brands like Burton and Lib Tech have profited less from the sport’s newfound popularity than parasitic brands like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar. It’s likely that the same thing will happen to skateboarding if and when it becomes an Olympic sport, which does the culture no good.
Creative Director of Snowboarder magazine, Pat Bridges (also a skater but not a bird), weighed in on the issue in an interview with RIDE Channel. He sums up the anti-Olympic stance with pinpoint accuracy, ranting that “People say it’s great for us to gain more mainstream exposure. Who the fuck doesn’t know what skateboarding is at this point? Who are we turning on, and what are we turning out … is somebody going to want to do something they clearly can’t do, which is go 30 feet above the lip of a halfpipe.”
I’ll paraphrase a little and say that he goes on urging people not to “get sold on the false bill of goods” that the Olympics will bring exposure to skateboarding that it doesn’t already have.
In what may be one of the most accurate things I’ve heard in my lifetime, Bridges says that “When you can go into any Walmart and buy a skateboard, skateboarding is ubiquitous at that point.”
And this is very true. I can go into any Walmart and buy toilet paper, something that’s commonly found in bathrooms all over the world. So, essentially, skateboards are toilet paper. I wipe my ass with skateboards.
Okay, so how should you feel after reading this article? I’ll tell you. You should have a mixture of feelings. On one hand, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for skateboarding to become an Olympic sport. Despite the sport’s popularity, the exposure that the Olympics have will only increase the popularity of skateboarding.
Sure, who doesn’t know what skateboarding is? I’ll tell you: infants, very old people and perhaps some Russians or Aboriginal tribes. In a strictly literal sense then, yes, the worldwide phenomenon that is the Olympics will increase the reach of the sport, but skateboarding is about more than just the ollies and varials that the judges will be scoring.
People who become familiar with the sport through the Olympics will only get to know a watered down version of skateboarding. They will never know unique culture that surrounds it. They’ll never experience the rebellious nature that drove the boys of Dogtown or Bam Margera or Mr. Hawk Man to take up skateboarding. Skateboarding will extend its reach to the expanses of the globe, but its culture may suffer from it.