There are few things more quintessentially Australian than didgeridoos, surfing, and the Irwin family, but there’s one domestically popular activity hoping to bring a heightened awareness of itself via the 2032 Summer Olympic Games, lifesaving.
Graham Ford, President of the International Life Saving Federation (ILS), told Around the Rings, “we would like to think that with the Olympic Games going to Queensland, Australia in 2032, that there may be an opportunity for them to consider ourselves to be a sport [in the Games].”
While aquatic sports have been a part of the Olympic Games from the very start, lifesaving has never made an appearance on the official sports program. Lifeguards have maintained a pool-side presence at Olympic competitions, but have never been given the opportunity to showcase their skills at the Games.
“We understand that every sport has a purpose, but ours is very much a humanitarian purpose,” said Ford. He highlighted the real-life applications of skills gained from participating in competitive lifesaving.
“Ultimately, these people are out there on the front line saving lives,” asserted the Australian.
Unlike The Fray’s 2005 hit “How to Save a Life,” lifesaving offers actionable skills in areas such as drowning response.
Drowning is considered a “leading killer” by the World Health Organization. It notes drowning as the sixth leading cause of death for children worldwide. The organization estimates that nearly 236,000 people lost their lives to drowning in 2019.
“If we weren’t out there on the front line, how many more people would drown?” pondered Ford.
He explained, “what our athletes are doing is they’re training to be rescue ready, so that when they have to go and rescue somebody, they’re fit and they can actually go out and do that.”
He continued, “when they go to get a mannequin off the bottom of the pool, just read that as a body that’s there, and we’re trying to get them up and to the side of the pool as quickly as possible, so we can then intervene as a first responder.”
Ford also encouraged athletes from other aquatic disciplines to try the sport, noting, “it’s a life skill.”
Competitive lifesaving includes events in the pool and open water. The ILS hopes to showcase its open water events at the Brisbane 2032 Summer Olympics.
“What we’ve discussed with the sports department in Lausanne is presenting our sport in the open water,” said Ford. A demonstration of the sport was held at SportAccord 2019 in the Gold Coast.
Despite its absence from the Olympics, lifesaving has featured at every edition of The World Games since 1985. The sport was also recently included on the sports program of the Military World Games. Efforts are also underway to see lifesaving included in the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
Whether or not lifesavers will get a chance to showcase their skills in the Land Down Under remains to be seen. The inclusion of lifesaving would certainly be fitting for a country that featured nippers (youth lifesavers) and lifeguards in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.