Despite the fanfare, the world records and the national pride, in recent years the Olympics has struggled to sustain the interest of young people. During the 2012 London Games, the average viewer age was 48, a clear indication that millennials and younger generations are simply no longer interested.
To win the youth back, the IOC has devised a cunning plan. First of all, if the audience is online, so will the Games. The launch of the new Olympic Channel, an online platform allowing fans to follow sports year round, is described as the IOC’s most strategic move in more than a decade.
The second part of the plan involves the introduction of alternative adventure sports into the Olympic roster. It started two decades ago with the inclusion of snowboarding in the winter program. And despite controversies and the pushback from a big part of the snowboarding community, other adventure sports continue to dream of the Olympics.
Last year three disciplines rooted in youth culture – sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding – were chosen to debut at Tokyo 2020. As was the case with snowboarding, controversies abound. While federations hope for more exposure and, subsequently, funding, many practitioners of alternative disciplines are skeptical.
In the case of climbing, many athletes don’t agree with the convoluted format of the competition proposed by the IOC. In addition, traditional climbers often don’t even see the discipline as a sport. Some fear that inclusion in the Olympics threatens its identity as a pursuit of outdoor adventure.
Doubts about the Olympic format also plague the surfing community. In addition, some commentators also point to the increased sexualization of female athletes that often follow the rise of a sport’s profile.
Despite downsides, a few young people have already benefited from the inclusion of adventure sports in the Olympics. One such individual is Molly Thompson-Smith, an up-and-coming British climber, who has recently been awarded a lucrative Sky Sports scholarship, an accolade that probably wouldn’t have been possible were she not a potential Olympian.
The inclusion of young, exciting disciplines in the Games might also have one unexpected effect. The Olympics has the power to unite entire families and nations in front of their TVs. If the IOC manages to spark the interest of younger audiences, we can once again be brought together.