“In fashion for three thousand years”… Historical Olympic sports facing the challenge of youthism

On closer inspection, the work of certain members of the Olympic Organizing Committee (IOC) is quite nice. Watch social networks to see the latest trendy sports, those that create the “buzz” with millions of views from Internet users, preferably young people. And thus be able, one day, bobbing among the petits fours in the opulent Lausanne offices, to draw out: “What if we tried break dancing for the next Olympic Games, will we bring in a new, super-trendy audience? »

So that’s how, well more or less, three years after surfing, skateboarding and climbing joined the great Olympic family, that break dancing managed to seduce the IOC and will take its first steps in Paris, next summer, among the historic disciplines of the Games. Because, yes, even if it is in the spirit of the times, to make room for young people, “sports grandpas” are resisting, like weightlifting, wrestling, whose world championships are taking place this year. moment in Belgrade (Serbia), or shooting, which were on the program of the first Olympic Games of the modern era, in 1896.

More pigeon shooting

Nearly one hundred and thirty years later, these three disciplines are still on the Olympic program, while several other sports have disappeared from the radar over the years, such as karate, Basque pelota or pigeon shooting ( yes yes, you read correctly). So how do these sports survive the ages without ever being questioned? “It’s a question that I ask myself every morning, and the only answer I gave myself is that we have been in fashion for three thousand years,” says Lionel Lacaze, president of the French Federation of struggle.

However, in 2013, the man who was 15 times French champion in the discipline had a few heartaches when the IOC Executive Board decided to remove wrestling from the hard core of the sports that made up the program. “A few hours later, Japan, which had just won the Olympics, said that if there was no wrestling, there would be no Games in Japan. We really have the impression that wrestling is anchored in the Olympic landscape. »

Constantly evolving to remain attractive

So much so that a new addition should appear at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 2028: beach wrestling, already on the program for the Youth Olympic Games. Sand wrestling, for non-English speakers, is a blessing to attract another audience and be “even more fashionable”, as the president of the FFLDA points out. “We clearly feel the desire on the part of the organizers of the Olympic Games to highlight other aspects of sporting practice,” he continues. Beach wrestling is the codification of traditional African wrestling. And this is the first time that there will be a sport codified by the African continent at the Games. »

Evolving to stay in the little papers is a bit like the mantra of all so-called historic sports. “For those whose legitimacy is not at stake, like the marathon, there is no problem,” notes Frédéric Ferrer, actor and director of theatrical conferences around the Olympic Games. For others, there is an obligation to constantly modify the tests. Table tennis has thus modified the size of the ball, the number of points, and the size of the table. It also allows you to stand the test of time and always please the camera. »

Universality and lobbying

And then, whether it is wrestling or shooting, these disciplines can boast of being practiced in many countries, one of the criteria for appearing on the Olympic program. Around a hundred countries for shooting, between 150 (Greco-Roman wrestling) and 200 (freestyle wrestling) for combat sport.

All these nations will defend the disciplines to the IOC, notes Michel Baczyk, president of the French Shooting Federation. What has also changed, for us, is the development of sports shooting in emerging countries, such as in China, which is now at a top level, or in India, which dominates world sports shooting and which is building centers in the schools. And I think that these big federations also have a lobbying role with the IOC.”

Important lobbying at a time when all shooting disciplines are not certain to appear on the Los Angeles-2028 agenda. “The compressed air rifle has been validated, but not yet the 25-50 meter bullet shooting, and I think that it is because they do not have the facilities, that it will therefore cost them dearly,” explains Michel Baczyk. The only problem that is difficult to manage with the IOC is the construction costs. The future of our discipline, I think it is mainly linked to a financial question, not ethical or “fun”. »

What if these disciplines disappeared from the Olympic program?

So the question arises of the future of the discipline if it disappears from the Olympic program. A national drama? Not necessarily. “Shooting is like athletics, we have twelve different disciplines. At the Olympics, there are only three, replies the president. Yes, they would be penalized if they are no longer at the Olympics, particularly in the media, but the other eight, without the Olympics, attract people, like shooting with ancient weapons, a worldwide discipline. »

On the wrestling side, if we obviously do not want the sport to no longer be Olympic, this would allow a radical change to be made in practice, assures Lionel Lacaze: “We are an extremely elitist discipline. It’s like we summarize athletics as people who prepare for the 100m in less than 10 seconds. We are a bit like that. As soon as we enter our sport, there is a tendency to seek the best performance. So that reduces the interest a little for the majority and Olympism comforts us in this context. We could be more focused on development that no longer focuses on this excellence, but more on combat education. » To make the fight a little more fun. And then, if it’s fun, the IOC will definitely take a look at it.

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