It’s the era of disruption for the Olympics.
Not just the unprecedented one-year postponement for Tokyo 2020 or the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing coming in six weeks under strict anti-virus protocols. The year ahead and beyond presents an array of challenges for the IOC that promise to disrupt and change the Olympics far more than the pandemic.
In February at the IOC Session ahead of the Beijing Olympics, members will be asked to cut weightlifting, boxing and modern pentathlon from the Olympic program, replacing them with skateboard, sport climbing and surfing.
It may be one of the most disruptive changes ever for the summer program. The three new sports were as once unthinkable as Olympic events as the absence of weightlifting from the Games.
The three sports about to be cut have long been warned that their future in the Olympics has been at risk. They have been replaced with new events more relevant to 21st century sporting trends. And as impossible as it might have seemed once, breaking or break dancing will enter the program in Paris with the chance to become a permanent fixture beyond.
That means more disruptions are coming. As long as the IOC keeps to a limit of 10,500 athletes per Summer Games, adding new sports will affect those on the program. If not cut outright from the Games, then numbers of disciplines may be the sacrifice sports federations may have to make to stay in the Olympics.
“Change or be changed” IOC President Thomas Bach has warned repeatedly during his time in office, referring to the IOC as well as the international federations and other organizations under the Olympic umbrella. Bach has become a sort of disrupter-in-chief, advocating changes that toss out the status quo.
Disruption is certainly at play as the prospect grows that GAISF, the General Association of International Sports Federations, will be disbanded. For 40 years, GAISF has represented the sports in the summer and winter Games and another 60+ outside the Olympics. Some see it as a move to diminish federation power. Others regard GAISF as a non-essential cog in the Olympic sport machine.
This possible upset of the status quo is expected to come to a head at the Sport Accord convention now set in May in Russia after three disruptive postponements since 2019.
Disruption is feared by the IOC and sports federations from a plan from FIFA for a World Cup every two years instead of four years. FIFA is confident the world will welcome a biennial 48-team spectacular starting in 2028. Others dread financial harm and diminished attention to the Olympics.
On its own initiative, the IOC has disrupted businesses around the globe which handled ticket sales to the Olympics under arrangements with national Olympic committees. Ending that practice with the establishment of a centralized ticketing and hospitality service has been a painful cut for businesses which specialized in Olympics hospitality. Sports Mark in the U.K. and CoSport in the U.S. are two of the biggest firms now cut out of Olympic business.
Changes enacted by the IOC for the way host cities for the Games are chosen has been disruptive for another Olympic cottage industry, bid consultants. Early in his tenure, Bach called for an array of reforms aimed at saving cities millions of dollars in failed attempts to win the Games. Cutting out the need to hire consultants or stage expensive international campaigns that sometimes included suspicious transactions.
Paris 2024 is on its way to be remembered as the disruptor of the opening ceremony for the Olympics. Dropping plans for a structured stadium event, the 2024 Games will open in a celebration along the Seine, no tickets needed. No doubt the scheme of Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet and company has already disrupted the thinking of ceremonies plans for Los Angeles in 2028 and Brisbane in 2032.
In a quiet way Bach is laying groundwork that will make women a possibly controlling force in the IOC, a disruption most certain from the male hegemony of the IOC of yore.
Bach has engineered a change in status that will keep two rising figures on the IOC as members for years to come. Nicole Hoevertsz of Aruba, now an IOC vice president and Danka Bartikova of Slovakia, former Athletes Commission member should both be approved at the Beijing IOC Session in February. There change in status will allow them to serve until age 70 retirement, giving each decades to serve and possibly lead.
Bartikova and Hoevertsz are among the growing number of women who have joined the IOC in recent years as the body moves closer to gender equity. One of those women may well succeed Bach when he retires in 2025, the first to hold the official title of IOC President – and the unofficial one – disruptor in chief.