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IOC appeals to women, youth with new sport, event additions for Tokyo 2020

Japan's top freestyle BMX athlete Rimu Nakamura performs at an event. (Photo courtesy of First Track Inc.)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will include a record 33 sports for a total of 339 events, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on June 9, with sport and event additions that are hoped to both increase female participation and the interest of young people in the games.

    "I am delighted that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will be more youthful, more urban and will include more women," commented IOC President Thomas Bach of the decision to add three sports and two events to the 2020 lineup. The IOC hopes to battle dwindling interest in the games with the changes, but the additions do not come without concerns about their scale and cost to the host city.

    In a push to make realizing complete gender equality an aim of the games, the IOC added more mixed events to raise the percentage of female athletes. The new events will boost female participation in the games to 48.8 percent -- the largest proportion in history. The sporting world has been traditionally dominated by male athletes, and the first time that a woman from every country or region participated in a single Olympic Games was at London 2012. The committee worried that if they did not change with the times, fans would turn their backs on the games.

    In the same fashion, the committee put special emphasis on attracting and retaining younger viewers in the selection of new sports and events for 2020. The IOC kept the three sports of skateboarding, surfing, and sports climbing added for Rio 2016, while adding freestyle BMX stunt cycling and three-person basketball to the list of events, aiming to grab the attention of a new generation of Olympics fans.

    The inclusion of these new sports was closely connected to the committee's dependence on broadcasting revenue. The biggest contributor to the IOC's purse is NBC in the United States. However, according to U.S. media outlets, the average age of a person watching the 2016 Rio Games was 52.4 years old, while viewers between the ages of 18 and 34 made up only 5.3 percent of the viewership on average.

    These numbers pushed the committee to more carefully consider the interests of Olympic broadcasts' younger viewers. Freestyle BMX is said to be so popular that becoming an athlete in the sport made the top 10 dream jobs for U.S. children -- a fact that turned out to be key in its adoption for the 2020 Games.

    However, while the new sports are perhaps popular among young people abroad, none of them have high recognition in Japan. There are only a few hundred freestyle BMX athletes in Japan, and roughly 50 athletes are listed on a roster started just this year. The Japan Freestyle BMX Federation was also formed just last year. Federation head Satoshi Deguchi commented, laughing, "We had set our sights on (being included in) the 2028 Games."

    On the other hand, the addition of a total of 15 new events is also causing concern. There is a high possibility that the three-on-three basketball, freestyle BMX, skateboarding and other events will be held at venues in the Tokyo Bay Zone. Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Sports Director Koji Murofushi insisted that the committee will "consider implementation that does not increase costs," but there is no question that there will be a heavier maintenance burden on the sporting venues with the additions. While the IOC requested a decrease in costs for the games, the decision to include the new events actually adds to the host city's financial burden.

    As the new events will also increase total athlete numbers, cuts had to be made to the number of competitors in existing events. A total of 11,090 athletes are set to participate in the 2020 Games, less than that of the 2016 Rio Games. In particular, the number of athletes in international doping scandal-hit track and field dropped by 105, and weightlifting by 64, making up roughly 60 percent of the cut in athlete places.

    Japanese athletes saw great success in weightlifting during the 1964 Tokyo Games. But while there are high expectations surrounding the addition of female weight classes for 2020, Japan Weightlifting Association President Yoshiyuki Miyake laments the numbers cut. "It's a shame," he said, "I'm confused why they would make this kind of decision without any discussion."

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