Michael Pavitt

At times recently the world has appeared to be on fast forward, with everyone struggling to keep pace with events.

A significant part of this is due to new technologies, particularly online, which has turbo-charged an evolution in many fields.

Take politics. Policies in the United States seem to no longer be explained by a soothing fireside chat or a television broadcast but are punched out in tweets. Party political messaging in the UK used to come in the form of leaflets and scheduled broadcasts, but you can now run a daily propaganda service through memes, videos and, well, fake news which can be shared.

There is clearly a scramble to adapt to the changing climate, whether you're an average Joe on the street or an established organisation or brand.

For instance, I found myself watching a YouTube video earlier this week where teenagers were listing their favourite songs of 2018. When I reached the end having recognised none of the artists or songs, I came to the startling conclusion. I must be getting old.

This was not meant to happen when I am still in my twenties.

I showed my now old-school views earlier this week when I shared my thoughts about breakdancing being set to join the Paris 2024 Olympic programme, along with sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding as proposed additional sports.

My disapproval of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) latest "hipster choices", designed to make the Games more attractive to youth and appeal to the latest trends, were among numerous views from traditionalists sighing at the organisation's attempts to become cool.

Then Paris 2024 released a survey which found that 89 per cent of 15 to 25-year-olds consulted approved of the four sports. Interesting. 

The results were harvested from questionnaires on their website, mobile apps and social networks, certainly the place to go for feedback from young people. Even more interesting.

Breakdancing has been put forward as one of four additional sports for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images
Breakdancing has been put forward as one of four additional sports for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images

Backtracking to the Buenos Aires 2018 Summer Youth Olympics, I must admit there is certainly first-hand evidence to suggest breakdancing - or breaking - would appeal to young people. There were sizeable crowds watching events in Argentina's capital and the urban park carried a more youthful vibe to sitting in a stand.

The logic of the IOC around these urban parks does make sense, where you can stroll from one event to the next. Add into the mix the potential for public participation. The prospect of normal human beings using an Olympic facility mid-Games was touted by Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission chair John Coates about the skateboard venue. Sure, there will be red tape around it, but I have more chance of skateboarding mid-Olympics than being given a go around the velodrome.

With regard to Paris 2024, the bid slogan was "Made for Sharing". Sharing the same marathon course as elite runners in the French capital has whetted the appetite of quite a few post-announcement, following a similar initiative at last year's Commonwealth Games.

The four sports proposed as additions by Paris 2024 - and mostly likely the IOC - are made for sharing.

The biggest impression breakdancing made on me at the Youth Olympic Games was not when I was stood in the Urban Park watching it, but its online presence. Barring the greatest own goal scored in the history of futsal, breakdancing dominated Youth Olympic Games clips being shared on my Twitter and Facebook timelines.The metrics must have been great from an IOC perspective.

You can see the appeal to the IOC and Paris 2024 as the additional sports are very "clip-able". A great skateboarding trick can probably garner thousands of retweets on Twitter, while thousands may watch a couple of minutes of a great breakdance routine.

Impressive routines can certainly be clipped and instantly enjoyed, shared and probably branded with Olympic sponsors. While it certainly will not be the only factor taken into the debate on new sports, I can imagine it being a persuasive one.

Breakdancing had good crowds at the Youth Olympics and enjoyed a strong following on social media ©Getty Images
Breakdancing had good crowds at the Youth Olympics and enjoyed a strong following on social media ©Getty Images

Drifting into misery guts territory, though, the need to evolve faster in the increasingly technological world, where habits are changing, certainly has some issues as far as sport is concerned.

The IOC may previously have taken a long-term view with sports, where they could ensure the final product and federation are honed for the Games. For instance, taekwondo appearing as a demonstration sport at Barcelona 1992, before debuting eight years later in Sydney.

You do wonder if the likes of breakdancing and skateboarding have been added before they are completely ready. The painful process over skateboarding's journey to Tokyo 2020, where multiple organisations claimed to be in charge prior to a solution being reached, did raise questions over whether the roof was being put on before the house was built.

A similar scenario, I suspect, could unfold with breakdancing with a couple of organisations having claims to run the sport. Issues over the breakdancing community being adequately represented could also emerge. I am not even aware if the World DanceSport Federation have run many breakdancing events outside of the Youth Olympics.

In this respect, I do have some sympathy for a sport like squash when it feels as though some other sports may have jumped the queue. My main issue with squash's absence is that the sport feels far more suited to the Games than some of the core sports on the programme.

It fundamentally is easier to stay on programme than get on the programme.

There are frankly sports on the current sports programme which appear to have failed to adapt to the modern world. Whether that is providing social media output, results of events or press releases from a media perspective. For some sports I am completely none the wiser in understanding their calendar.

I cannot say I am a backer of breakdancing or skateboarding's introduction to the Olympic Games, but I question why there is so much debate about their additions and so little about the sports which are arguably bloating the programme.

The decision to rubber-stamp the Paris 2024 core sports programme a couple of years ago almost passed everyone by at the IOC Session in Lima, given the lack of discussion.

It is clear why some of these core sports feel decidedly safe, as a good chunk of them have a healthy representation in the IOC, whether that is direct officials from the sport or former athletes.

While the IOC are able to use their power over the programme as leverage, such as in the International Boxing Association dispute, changing things round is one of the few things President Thomas Bach, understandably, does not want to touch. It is one of the few aspects that could make his life uncomfortable in the IOC. The successful campaign to save wrestling's Olympic status prior to his tenure is a case in point.

Paris 2024 have sought to appeal to young people with their proposed sports ©Getty Images
Paris 2024 have sought to appeal to young people with their proposed sports ©Getty Images

You can look further afield to athletics, where proposals to change the distance of race walking events has been met with scorn by athletes. On the other hand, officials have claimed the discipline needs to be brave in order to be relevant with the broadcast and digital media.

I would argue the core sport programme probably does warrant something of a shake up, even if it were to prove politically sensitive and painful.

Sports like athletics, swimming and cycling are still likely to be the reason people will sit down to watch the Olympic Games, despite the changing landscape. The appeal in watching humans run, cycle and swim against each other is what the public will largely keep coming back to. Their place feels secure, just as party political broadcasts remain on television and people return to their favourite music, as trends come and go.

Perhaps a wider debate does need to be had within the IOC itself over what the sport programme needs to be to fit the current landscape. Particularly given that the programme now seems a mesh of young and outdated sports, along with your bankers to bring the buzz of the Games.

Tradition is as important in establishing a brand as modernisation and the IOC, like any established organisation, have to find a balance.