Tokyo 2020 review: BMX, skateboarding and 3x3 basketball - how the Olympics are moving with the times
The International Olympic Committee is demonstrating it knows there is a need to keep the Games relevant for the modern era by introducing street sports which will bring in new audiences when crowds return for Paris 2024. 3x3 basketball, skateboarding and BMX freestyle would surely all have been huge hits with spectators at Tokyo 2020.
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Sport governing bodies are often criticised for being stuck in their own ways and not moving with the times. The International Olympic Committee has received the same stick over the years - but it is surely not an accusation it can be accused of anymore.
At Tokyo 2020, three new street sports proved to be huge successes which will only explode further when crowds return to the Games. Skateboarding and BMX freestyle wowed TV audiences, while 3x3 basketball even has a DJ in the corner of the stands.
These are all sports which children and young people are taking part in across the world, and it is making the Games relevant for a new audience. Sport climbing was also a hit - centres are popping up across the UK for people who are both serious about the sport or fancy it as a quirky weekend activity with friends - while breakdancing will make its debut at Paris 2024.
In the UK, these sports have rarely been seen on mainstream television - and they proved to be immensely popular, helped by British success. There was a Team GB athlete in all BMX events, including in the inaugural women’s freestyle where Charlotte Worthington took gold. Thirteen-year-old Sky Brown delivered on the hype surrounding her to win skateboard bronze. Audiences were wowed by the skill on display, and the stands in Paris will surely be rammed.
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The IOC is conscious that it needs to find the right balance, appeasing the traditional viewers but bringing in new ones. It is why modern pentathlon has been told to modernise, with cycling likely to replace horse riding - if the sport does not shape up, it has already been told it will likely not be included in the programme for Los Angeles 2028. As an event which was literally made up for the Olympics by the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, that shows which direction the IOC wants to head in.
3x3 basketball was a hit on its Olympic debut
Image credit: Getty Images
The Olympics are by its own nature a global event and some sports are more popular than other countries. For example, table tennis and badminton receive bigger TV viewing figures in Asian markets, as does archery and shooting. But the US pays more for broadcasting rights than any other nation and that has sparked the move towards street sports.
The Winter Olympics are moving in the same direction. Figure skating and alpine skiing will always be the blue riband events, but freestyle skiing and snowboard are steadily building more events into the programmes.
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The IOC has also shown it is keen to bring the Games into the 21st century by introducing mixed events into as many sports as possible. Swimming’s mixed relay proved to be a big success and produced one of the most exciting races in the programme. Athletics tried the same thing, but needs to fix the scheduling to make it a success - it is too early in the competition, and athletes are focusing on their individual events, meaning most countries effectively put out ‘B’ teams.
Team GB came out on top in an entertaining mixed triathlon relay, which also gave Jonny Brownlee the gold he was craving. Tom Daley has already said that a mixed diving event could be enough to convince him to carry on through to Paris - expect to see similar competitions added for 2024.
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