Once the final results were in, the announcer boomed on his microphone, not the name of the winner – Sergei Chernyshev – nor his country – Russia – but the moniker the teenager had been known by throughout the 2018 Youth Olympics: Bumblebee. The same procedure was followed in declaring Japan’s Ramu Kawai – Ram – as the girls’ champion.
This was a break from the norm of an Olympic event, but having a stage name is a given when it comes to breakdance, or street dancing. It was arguably the most peculiar discipline when it debuted, at any level of the Olympics, at the junior event in Buenos Aires. But as it pans out, both Bumblebee and Ram will potentially have a chance for a senior medal at the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.
In its proposal on Thursday, the organizing committee of the Paris Olympics have put forward breakdancing as an official discipline when the global event descends upon France in five years.
“This is a major step forward in our ambition to organize a unique Olympic Games… that would have an impact and the element of surprise,” said Tony Estanguet, the head of the organizing committee to AFP. The three-time canoe Olympic gold medallist went further to mention that breakdancing, along with skateboarding, climbing and surfing (that are already a part of the 2020 Tokyo roster) would make the Olympics “more artistic.”
“(It’s also an) urban, universal and popular sport with more than a million BBoys and BGirls in France,” he added.
As it stands, the dance-sport’s inclusion to the 2024 program is still in the proposal stage, and the organizing committee will have to submit their recommendations to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The final decision will be taken in December 2020.
The IOC in turn has given a favourable reaction to the proposal, especially since dance sport has an appeal to a younger diaspora. This has been a target for the governing body.
The IOC had announced that the number of competitors at Paris 2024 would be restricted to 10,500, which limited the scope to add sports.
“We are pleased to see that Paris 2024’s proposal for new sports to the Olympic programme is very much in line with the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020, which is striving to make the Olympic programme gender-balanced, more youth-focused and more urban,” the IOC said in a statement.
Ageing audience, falling appeal behind tinkering
In a bid to address the issue of an ageing audience and deteriorating appeal for traditional sports featured at the Olympics, the IOC has been tinkering with the Games roster at each edition. Back in 2016, the wrestling event had changes in the various weight categories, including the removal of the 66kg event which had seen Sushil Kumar earn two Olympic medals for India. It led Sushil to move to the 74kg event and resulted in an ugly tussle for the quota with Narsingh Yadav. The grapplers’ garb was also different as they replaced the traditional red or blue with colours that represented their respective country. For Tokyo 2020, climbing, surfing, skateboarding and baseball – which has a strong culture in Japan – have been added to the roster along with the more attractive 3x3 basketball event. Traditional shooting events like men’s double trap, men’s 50m rifle prone and men’s 50m pistol events were removed in favour of mixed gender events for the air rifle, air pistol and trap. Esports too has been considered and was added as a demonstration sport at the Asian Games.
The organizing committee’s decision to pick breakdancing though has come at the expense of Squash, a sport that has been striving hard, over multiple editions of the Games, to find a breakthrough into the Olympic roster.
The racquet sport had been dealt a blow at the Rio Games when it lost out to golf. It further irked the squash community when a host of high-profile golfers – including the top four men’s players at the time Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy respectively – opted to skip the Olympics altogether, citing the Zika virus threat.
“For the future,” said world no 11 Saurav Ghosal at the time, “I hope the IOC restructures their decision making a process to include a sport that actually wants to be there!”
Back in 2012, squash legend Nicol David mentioned in an interview to CNN that “I would trade all of my world titles for just one Olympic gold medal. Every world title means the world to me, so that’s how important the Olympics is in my heart.”
Similarly, Esports, which had been included as a demonstration sport at the 2018 Asian Games, has not found the required push to the Olympics. However in this case, it is the ‘violent’ nature of the popular computer games played that have proven to be a deterrent.
“We cannot have in the Olympic program a game which is promoting violence or discrimination. If you have e-games where it’s about killing somebody, this cannot be brought in line with our Olympic values,” IOC President Thomas Bach had told the BBC in September.
For now though, breakdancing has struck a chord with the Parisian organisers.