ISA President Fernando Aguerre updated industry executives on the status of surfing’s participation in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo last night in Laguna Beach.
How the surfing competition unfolds in Tokyo will be particularly important because surfing has not been named a permanent Olympic sport. To be invited back for 2024, and to possibly secure a permanent spot one day, all needs to go well in Tokyo.
“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” Fernando said.
There is also a huge financial incentive to securing a permanent spot – money from the Olympics then flows into the organizing body of the sport. Right now, surfing does not have access to those resources. That’s also why Fernando was asking industry executives to continue to support Friends of Olympic Surfing, which helps with costs as the demands on the ISA ramp up even more.
He also shared some details about how surfing will be presented. There will be a two-week surf beach festival on the water about 50 minutes from Tokyo. The idea is to showcase all that the surfing lifestyle represents with bands, surf lessons, yoga in the mornings, art, and environmental activations.
The two-week festival will start at the front end of the Olympic calendar with the hopes that the waves will cooperate during that timeframe. They need two days of competition to run the event.
Between now and 2020 a lot needs to happen, including establishing a qualification system. The Olympics require the sport to have a strong qualification system that combines the elite with a wide geographic scope. A proposed qualification system will be submitted in July of this year, and the IOC will approve a system by the end of 2017.
The process of qualifying for the Olympics can only start two years before the actual games.
Right now, the format is 20 male and 20 female athletes will qualify to compete at the Olympics, but the ISA has a request in to change that to 24 per gender to make the mechanics of the competition run more smoothly.
The venue master plan needs to be designed and executed, and the sport will need to adapt to the very strict Olympic marketing regulations.
While Fernando stressed a lot of work needs to be done in the run up to 2020, he is also optimistic about 2024. That’s because LA and Paris are vying to host the games that year, and both seem open to the sport of surfing.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti opened a recent presentation to Olympic officials with images of a sunset and surfboards. And Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who was born in Spain, is very familiar with the surfing culture in the Southwest of France.
The winning city for 2024 will be announced in September.
The next big event for the ISA is the ISA World Games in Biarritz in May. Several countries are sending their top WSL athletes to compete, and the Chinese are even fielding a team coached by none other than Peter Townend.
Several industry executives I spoke with last night are quite excited about surfing making it into the Olympics, and think it's the best thing to happen to the sport, and the industry, in a long time.