If Skateboarding Goes to Tokyo in 2020, Who Steers the Ship?
Few topics have reached the level of controversy as skateboarding's possible, then probable, and now seemingly incipient inclusion in the Olympic Games. It's a story that's been written about for more than a decade, and today, all signs point to skateboarding in the 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, Japan. Common first impressions have ranged from apathy, to apprehension, to outright hostility. However, having skateboarding as an Olympic sport can also be seen as a natural evolution. Consider the fact that contests have always been a part of skating. And in the last 15 years, they've gotten progressively bigger and bigger, in terms of participation, media exposure, and prize purse. Consider the number of skateparks that have popped up in the last decade. From there it's not hard to imagine P-Rod and Nyjah atop a five-ringed podium in Tokyo, a few short years from now.
Editors Note: This story appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of TransWorld Business. As the spotlight lands on more aspects of our action sports culture—with surfing’s possible inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, as well as skateboarding—we decided to dig deeper into what it would mean to be a contender on such a global mainstream stage.
A YOUNGER DEMOGRAPHIC
As mentioned above, the Olympics have had their sights set on skateboarding in the Olympics for a long time, and it's not difficult to understand why. Skateboarding is hip, young, and exciting, and according to a 2014 Huffington Post article, Olympic viewers are only getting older. The inclusion of snowboarding was intended to combat this, but: "The median age of the Olympic viewer increased from 50.9 in 2006 to 55.1 this year, despite the addition of snowboard and halfpipe events designed to appeal to young people," explains author David Bauder.
Conversely, skateboarding appeals to a far younger demographic. At IASC's recent 2015 summit, Research Director Thomas Barker pointed out that 70% of all skateboarders were below the age of 25. Skateboarding, it seems, is a crucial component to the Olympics' viewership issue.
THE NEXT STEPS
Nothing has been officially decided, though—at least, not yet. If skateboarding is going to be in the Olympics, it will likely be announced soon—there's a lot of prep work, and five years isn't a lot of time. But before skateboarding can become an Olympic sport, there's a lot that needs to happen. The first step is the designation of an official "International federation." This is an important distinction—this is the group that sets the rules, and is responsible for the technical control and direction. The IFs are also responsible for eligibility, qualifying, and several other facets.
The designee is a group called the International Olympic Committee (IOC). At present, there are at least three competing organizations, each vying for the official designation of "International Federation." And now, more than a decade after this story began, we find ourselves on the eve of a decision.
THE POTENTIAL FEDERATIONS
As it stands, the three organizations are: The World Skateboarding Federation (WSF), the Federation International de Roller Sports (FIRS), and the International Skateboarding Federation (ISF).
FIRS is headquartered in Rome, and they have been around the longest— since the mid-1960s, in fact. They've even been an IOC-sanctioned Federation for decades. It wasn't for skateboarding, though – it was for roller hockey.
Comparing roller-skating to skateboarding because they both have wheels is like comparing basketball to soccer because they both have balls. That being said, their longstanding relationship with the IOC could put them in the running. Representatives from FIRS declined to comment for this article.
The ISF has been around since 2003, and is headed up by Camp Woodward's Gary Ream. "When we first met to form USA Skateboarding, and the International Skateboard Federation, it wasn't that we lusted to be anywhere, we just wanted to be in a position to protect when the battle came," explains Ream. "And the battle is now here, 12 years later."
In preparation, Ream and the ISF began consolidating events under the ISF umbrella, and in 2014, the ISF and its members put on more than 100 pro and am skateboarding contests in more than a dozen countries, including Street League, Tampa Pro and Am, Dew Tour, the World Cup, Vans Pool Party, and more.
One feather in the ISF's cap is an endorsement from the International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC). This organization, which has been around since 1995, has given its unanimous support to Ream and the ISF.
"IASC has supported the ISF and Gary Ream's efforts since the beginning, essentially, because we believe that he has the best interests of skateboarders and skateboarding in mind," explains IASC Executive Director Josh Friedberg. "His approach is not that we need to get skateboarding in the Olympics, his approach has always been: 'If skateboarding goes into the Olympics, we want skateboarders making the decisions.'"
The most recent contender is the WSF. Enter Tim McFerran, who helped launch the Maloof Money Cup series in 2008. Since then, he has launched the Kimberley Diamond Cup content in South Africa in 2013, and created the World Skateboarding Federation in 2014.
"What Tim's done in South Africa is pretty remarkable," explains The Boardr's Ryan Clements. "The scene he's created, the events that he's done… the dude has straight-up built skateboarding in South Africa. It's pretty impressive, and pretty cool. I have to give him a high five for that. Tim has been a good partner in a lot of things. He's the one who pushed us to create our scoring system—it was a Maloof requirement, and we got it done."
McFerran, who comes from the world of competitive basketball, provides an insightful perspective: In addition to helping develop The Boardr's scoring system, he assisted in marrying the traditional skateboarding content with one that works for network TV.
"My main concern about skateboarding was that the format wasn't fast enough," says McFerran. "From the Olympic standpoint, the format is key. It can't be slow; it can't be stand-there, wait-in-line to do your trick. It has to go fast.”