(Cover art credit: www.theberrics.com)
I know, I know, it’s old news, skateboarding is now an official Olympic sport and will feature in the Japan 2020 Games, yadda yadda, yeah yeah, heard it ages ago. What you might not be aware of however is the intense debate amongst skateboarders as to whether this is a welcome step forward, or the beginning of the end.
I’m definitely not the first person (or the first skater) to consider this topic and feel like it’s worthy of some deeper debate, but the more people I speak to about it the more opinions I hear; some positive, some negative, and some who want to see how it plays out in Tokyo before making a final judgement.
Japanese skater Yuto Horigome competes in a qualification event for the Tokyo Olympic Games (Nov 2018)
Part 1 – So what’s all the fuss about?
Trawling through Instagram comments is a dangerous and worrying habit, demonstrating that you’re either really bored or just procrastinating to escape an unwanted chore. Recently though there have been a couple of posts from the likes of Tony Hawk and Nyjah Huston that had me scrolling through hundreds of comments; basically because the skate community just can’t seem to agree on what the Olympics might do for the future of skateboarding.
Check out some of the comments:
There’s hundreds more comments like these all over social media and as I’m sure you can imagine the language can get pretty colourful from time to time. But there’s more to this debate besides the opinions of randomers on the internet-google-machine, so what are the positives and negatives?
Part 2 – A welcome step forward?
There’s plenty of positives that come from skateboarding being in the Olympics, but what are they?
- Exposure to the wider world which will offer rubber-stamped legitimacy to the haters who still consider skateboarding to be a nuisance rather than a sport.
- Encouraging worldwide investment in new skateparks and new facilities.
- Lucrative sponsorship deals becoming available to skaters globally, not just North Americans and Europeans (check out the ‘11 Richest Professional Skateboarders in the World’).
- Potential growth for skateboard companies such as Chocolate, Vans, Volcom, Thrasher, Antihero, Etnies, Emerica and a host of others which in turn will create more jobs in the skate industry.
- Encouraging more people to skateboard, therefore providing skate companies with more customers and spreading the stoke.
- Further confirmation of the positive role skateboarding can play in education, entrepreneurship and community cohesion.
- Shining a spotlight on organisations such as Skateistan, Indigo Youth Movement, Skatepal, Deckaid and Women Skate the World.
- “The sport can be used to engage with disadvantaged young people, promote intergenerational interaction, enrich cultural diversity, enhance physical and mental health in middle-aged people and even support those with serious disabilities.”
- Allowing skateboarders from poorer countries such as Cambodia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan to showcase their sporting skill on the world stage.
- “The indirect effect is why I do support it as it will create more interest in skateboarding and more demand for products. There will be more people skating and buying product and reading websites and magazines, and their advertising will go up. There will be more money in marketing budgets to support art projects, to keep up the pressure on councils for parks and for schools to have skateboarding as part of the PE curriculum. The indirect benefits generally could be quite large.”
- “What’s more, skateboarding might just help to rescue the Olympics from its over reliance on “established” sports, international rivalries and high-level performance measuring. Skateboarding suggests that other attitudes toward competition can exist, in which personal achievement is undoubtedly celebrated, but always within a more pervasive culture of idiosyncratic innovation, shared engagement and general lifestyle.” (Thanks to Iain Borden for describing the last two points so eloquently).
Brazilian Pedro Barros competes in the Park Skateboarding World Championships (Nov 2018)
Part 3 – The beginning of the end?
Whilst some question whether the largely street-based activity of skateboarding even qualifies as a sport, skaters themselves have their own concerns:
- “Skateboarding is not a “sport” and we do not want skateboarding exploited and transformed to fit into the Olympic program. We feel that Olympic involvement will change the face of skateboarding and its individuality and freedoms forever. We feel it would not in any way support skateboarders or skateparks. We do not wish to be part of it and will not support the Olympics if skateboarding is added as an Olympic sport.”
- “the Olympics needs skateboarding more than skateboarding needs the Olympics”.
- Skating is about mutual appreciation of tricks and style, not direct rivalry of ‘who is better than who’.
- “Surely, the implicitly anti-capitalist, subcultural and “alternative” nature of skateboarding—where skaters appropriate urban streets, buildings and plazas for unregulated pleasures – is completely at odds with the training-intensive, performance-measured and medal-obsessed Olympic Games?”
- Skateboarders don’t wear uniforms, and definitely no spandex!
- Those running and judging the competitions won’t be skateboarders so they don’t understand and they won’t get it right.
- “Certainly, many skateboarders believe that it’s best kept away from the Olympics because of worries about a dilution of skateboarding’s “core” values of independence, non-commercialism and unregulation.”
- Too many rules and regulations: competitors have to wear helmets? Check out the official ‘Disqualification Report’ from a recent World Championships of Park Skateboarding held in Nanjing, China, where American skater Jagger Eaton was disqualified for not wearing a helmet. (World Skate competitions will be one of the primary pathways for athletes to qualify for the Street Skateboarding event in the Tokyo 2020 Games).
Jagger Eaton learns of his disqualification at the World Skate Men’s Park Skateboard Championship in China (Nov 2018)
Personally I’m a big fan of Tony Hawk’s view on the matter:
“But beyond that, just that it’s a legitimate activity. Some people don’t like to say it’s a sport but I believe it’s a sport. It’s a lifestyle and it’s a culture and it’s an art form. It hits all those things, you can choose which you want to focus on.”
(Check out Tony’s full thoughts on the matter here).
But overall I think Bob Burnquist’s words of wisdom really hit the nail on the head:
“For a long time, I was very against it, and then for a while I was on the fence. But I think there’s a time for everything and there’s an evolution.” Maybe skateboarding doesn’t have that much to be scared about after all.”
Preach Brother Burnquist, preach.
Stuff to know about skateboarding in Japan 2020:
- ‘Park’ and ‘Street’ are the two skateboard events on offer, there will be both Men’s and Women’s competitions with 20 spaces available for each discipline.
- World Skate, the International Olympic Committee-recognised International Federation governing skateboarding in conjunction with Street League Skateboarding (SLS) will host official competitions that allow skaters to earn Olympic qualification points.
- Skaters under the age of 18 must wear helmets during all competitive skateboarding. (That one seems fairly reasonable to be honest)
- Skateboard England are the closest thing we have to a National Governing Body of Skateboarding in the UK so far. They were only set up in 2015 and have endured a string of funding crises in the last few years, yet despite this their small team continues to strive forwards in supporting the growth of skateboarding in England and Wales. Check out the Sidewalk interview with them here.
And finally, the lingering question that all of us are dreading the answer to: Will there be mandatory uniforms and matching leotards?
Can you even imagine it…skating in a giant spandex onesie covered in the Union Jack!? No one deserves that.
So there you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly. I spent hours trawling the internet for articles about this so I could find out what the arguments were on either side, but I bet there are still views and opinions I haven’t heard yet.
What do you think about skateboarding being in the Olympics? I’m honestly interested to know. Please leave a comment below and tell me what you think.