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Herald on Sunday editorial: New sports bring new spirit to the Games

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Is skateboarding a sport now? Photo / Hope Sexton
Is skateboarding a sport now? Photo / Hope Sexton

Like most things in show business, the Olympic Games cannot rest on its laurels. Audiences change with the generations. The International Olympic Committee has to ensure it can capture the imagination of the young as well as keep the interest of older generations. It cannot be an easy task. The old can always be heard lamenting the dilution of their idea of the Olympics by the inclusion of activities they have not regarded as sports. Skateboarding, for instance.

Is skateboarding a sport now?

Most certainly, say two Waikato University professors, Holly Thorpe and Belinda Wheaton, in our feature on this subject today. And not just skate boarding but snow boarding and the surfing derivatives, wake-boarding and kite-boarding. It does not seem so long since windsurfing graduated from a summer pastime to an Olympic sport, much to the benefit of New Zealand's medal tallies when Barbara Kendall went to the games.

Go to any public playground with a skateboard ramp this weekend and a very high degree of skill will be seen. In fact, teen skateboarders do not even need a ramp. The boards jump and twist and fly with them on any stretch of urban concrete.

Thanks in part to the work of Thorpe and Wheaton, skateboarding is expected to be admitted to the Olympic Games in 2020, along with surfing, karate and sport climbing (up walls, over boulders, whatever).

In making the transition from weekend pastime to the Olympic Games, Thorpe and Wheaton have pointed out, these sorts of activities do not want to lose their culture of pure fun. This can be quite a challenge to the traditional culture of competitive sport and the expectations of its fans. Participants in these new "action sports" take pleasure in trying ambitious moves that end in spectacular failure, as much as they do in success. Their joy is undiminished by failure, which does not go down well with the public at home, especially if public grants have helped send them to the Olympics.

But joy is the essence of the activity and neither the participants nor their regular sponsors want to lose it. Good on them. The joy of dirt riding has not stopped Sarah Walker doing New Zealand proud. The IOC seems happy to respect the spirit of these new sports. Taxpayers and traditional fans should make allowance for it, too.

If the Olympics can remain successful it will continue to provide something for everyone. It already includes so many disparate sports that nobody can follow them all. Countries watch their own competitors and imagine the world is watching them too. That's the magic we will witness again at Rio soon. Long may it last.

- Herald on Sunday

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