Like many other skaters I assume, I woke up last Friday and did my usual morning social media sweep. After suddenly being surprised by the new Instagram update, I find the news that skateboarding will now be included as one of the 34 sports represented at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. As expected, the comments section was vivid with those debating the good vs. evil aspects of the decision. “Skateboarding’s an art not a sport!”, “I Hate Shaun White”, “Everyone’s going to be decked out in head to toe Nike SB”. But I think that with such a monumental occasion for the act of skateboarding, it is important to look at both sides of the argument before you form your opinion.
Firstly, let’s look at the supposed negatives. One of the most popular critiques of the IOC’s decision to include skateboarding is the opinion that skateboarding is an art form, a tool for personal expression, rather than a sport that can be boiled down to timings and point values. Now, what I’m saying is not that this opinion is wrong, but that it is an opinion, a view that differs from person to person. There are as many interpretations behind the meaning of skateboarding as there are actual individual skateboarders. And yes, to someone who skates casually with their friends, as a way of just hanging out or dorking around on what is essentially a plank of wood with wheels, skateboarding probably is seen as more of an art from, a way of experiencing poetic movement around their environments. But the opinion and views of one skater should have no bearing on the views of another. You might have another skater whose sole enjoyment from skating comes from pushing themselves, going faster, higher and longer than they thought they were capable of going. These two skaters are the same, they come from the same environment but their views the polar opposite. Does this make either of them wrong, or better than the other skateboarder? No. Why should it? What you get out of skateboarding is what you put in. If you want to hang at the spot with your homies, drink a beer and kick it on flatground, you’re going to have an amazing evening. Someone else that doesn’t want to skate in the same way but wants to see if they can get an extra 180 into his ledge combo, or lock into that handrail, or have a chance at representing their country at the Olympics should have no effect on anyone’s enjoyment of skateboarding but their own. Who cares if you see skateboarding as an art not a sport? There’s millions of individual and unique skaters in the world and you believe that your opinion is the definitive and end all classification of what is or isn’t a sport?
Now I can probably guess what everyone is thinking now whilst reading this, “Well I don’t have a problem if someone wants to treat skateboarding as a jock sport; I just have a problem with how Skateboarding is probably going to be represented at the Olympics.” And you’re probably right to be worried. Let’s face it, anyone who has seen a Street League live cast can only begin to imagine how awkward watching skateboarding at the Olympics will be. I can picture it now. Clare Balding and Gary Lineker sat in the commentary box alongside some skater who’s good enough to know what he’s talking about but not good enough/too old to be in the Olympics explaining the difference between regular and switch, nollie backside and frontside. Making the broadcast unbearably cringey for anyone who actually skates. And that will be the BBC’s fault, what the IOC will do will be a lot worse.
Due to the nature of every other Olympic discipline, some sort of street league scoring system where every trick is scored out of ten would have to be implemented. This is of course assuming that street skating will be in the Olympics. So far details are very limited, so I’m working off of the assumption that it will include Street (heavily following the Street League format), X-Games-esque vert and hopefully some sort of downhill death racing (think downhill skiing from the winter Olympics but skaters have to bomb hills). Now, stripping away skateboarding and reducing it to point figures and highly accurate timings probably isn’t the right way to introduce the world at large to skateboarding. Yes it will be in an easy format for non-skaters to understand, but if you asked any regular skater, myself included, these are not the aspects of skating that should be celebrated and anyone introduced to skating through the Olympics are likely to get the wrong impression about what makes skateboarding fun. But this is where the role of the rest of the skate community comes into play. With the inevitable rise in skateboarders that will surely come, it is the duty of the skate shops, the magazines, the other skateboarders to show what this community has to offer. Show new kids the GX1000 video and get them to be hyped on bombing hills and powersliding. Show them the latest issue of Thrasher to get them stoked on drinking beers with the homies. Bust a no-comply in front of them to warp their perceptions of what is achievable on the useless wooden toy beneath their feet. If we, the skateboarding population, will not take it upon ourselves to show those influenced by the Olympics that we are more than a scoreboard or a time, then of course skateboarding will never be represented as we want it to and it will be super lame again. The IOC is likely to show the world a watered down, radio friendly version of who we are and what we do, we just need to invite the next generation to look beyond this and discover the amazing subculture of degeneracy and immaturity that lies beneath.
There is of course another complaint that has been heard for some while now, but has gained new traction in lieu of the Olympic decision. This complaint is of course the rising prevalence of “corporate” shoe sponsors (mainly Nike SB but Adidas seems to get more of a pass because it hasn’t associated itself with competition skateboarding as much as Nike has). Now, the Olympics are perfect opportunities for athletic companies to get some prime advertising if their athletes win big. We’ve got Usain Bolt breaking the sound barrier for Puma, Mo Farah running for Adidas, and now we could be seeing Nyjah on the podium for Nike SB. It’s probably inevitable that whoever wins the gold medal for skateboarding will be wearing Nike, seeing as they have nearly every major contest skater on their roster, and not just from the USA (Shane O Neill, Youness Amrani, Luan Oliviera etc etc). There’s not much we can do about this, as all the other skater-owned shoe companies don’t have nearly as many riders who would be able to compete at the same level as those mentioned above. If the Olympics ultimately leads to a massive increase in younger kids skating then we just have to hope that they don’t buy as much from Nike, and other companies get a fairer share of the new money finding its way into the industry.
There is some consolation however, the elusive Rule 40 of the Olympic rulebook. Rule 40 states that during the Olympic Games, athletes must sever ties with any “non-official” sponsor, or anyone that isn’t sponsoring the games as a whole (i.e: any sponsor that isn’t Visa or Coca Cola basically) for the duration of games. Athletes cannot thank their sponsors, or be thanked by their sponsors due to this rule supposedly designed to stop the games from becoming too corporate. What effect this will have on the look of the competition branding wise is that we are likely to see minimal advertising of brands (if a sponsor like Nike isn’t even allowed to tweet congratulations to a competitor, I’m willing to assume shirts that just say “Nike SB” on them in big block letters will likely be banned). Hopefully the IOC doesn’t 100% lame it up and impose a mandatory uniform that constitutes of skin tight leotards, but rather have a standard issue uniform of black jeans and white t shirt with country/contestant number on them.
But despite all the seemingly bad things about the Olympics, there might also be some good in all of this. The main reason for skateboarding’s inclusion was the IOC’s need to make the games more youth-friendly and as appealing and inspirational to a younger generation of athletes. Hence the inclusion of Baseball, Surfing, Rock Climbing and of course Skateboarding. What I hope this means is that soon there could a massive influx of new skaters who want to pick up a board, not just in the US, but all over the world, even here in the UK. With every skateboard scene getting a massive injection of new skaters, that should also lead to massive amounts of money coming into the local skateboard economy. Think about it, some little 7 year old in Manchester tunes into the BBC highlights show and sees a clip of Shane O Neill doing a switch tre, or Sam Beckett pulling a Mctwist on the vert ramp and immediately gets stoked. They bug their parent or legal guardian to let them try skateboarding, so they trundle off down to Note or another local sate shop to have a look. The teenager doing work experience behind the counter shows the kid the DVD playing on the screen behind him and lets him flick through the latest issue of Thrasher. The parents buy their child a board and get directions to the nearest skatepark, ready to send their kid off into the world of slamming and getting up over and over again. The parents are stoked they’ve got their kid into an Olympic sport, the shop just sold a deck and made a potential customer for life, and if the kid can overcome those first few gnarly slams he’s set for a lifetime of unlimited possibilities. Everyone’s a winner, would you not agree?
Another good thing about skateboarding being an Olympic sport is the level of funding that will now go towards skateboard services (new parks, equipment for facilities and training possibilities). In the UK, the national bodies for the current 29 Olympic sports all receive a share of £543m raised by the National Lottery and gambling excesses, as well as the Government department for Culture, Media and Sport. Now this is a lot of money shared between these sports, and even with the additional 5 sports to be included in Tokyo2020, you can expect on average nearly £16m to go towards each sport. This is a significant amount of money for an activity still as low key as skateboarding. I am hoping that a significant amount of this money can go towards bettering and building new skateparks free for public use, or helping to fund already existing indoor-parks that struggle. This should happen as UKSport, the main national body for Olympic sports in the UK says that the majority of its income goes into “Central funding for sporting National Governing Bodies (NGBs), enabling them to operate a World Class Programme (WCP) and ensuring athletes have access to outstanding support personnel and training environments to ensure they are among the best prepared in the world”. A skater can dream that one day, every leisure centre will have a half pipe and funbox as well as a swimming pool and a badminton court.
So yes, there most probably are going to be some lame aspects about skateboarding going to the Olympics, but hopefully if the skateboarding community as a whole embraces it and acts accordingly, we might be able to use this as an opportunity to better our local skate communities.
PS: Top 5 countries at the Olympics
-USA (Nyjah, Shaun White)
-Brazil (Luan Oliveira, Bob Burnquist)
-Australia (Shane O Niell)
-Spain (All those kids from Barcelona)
– China (They’ll always have a strong Olympics team)