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Urban Sports – A New Normal for Host Cities?May 4, 2022

The Olympic Games are considered one of the pinnacles of the sporting calendar, with the highest level of competition and glory for competitors. The Games have a famous history of showcasing some of the best athletes in a variety of sports and, equally importantly, demonstrating the values of respect and friendship on and off the field of play.

But the success of the Games’ past does not guarantee the success of their future. In recent years especially, the Olympics have received criticism for being overly expensive and not bringing the necessary return on investment for host cities. As part of this, and to reflect broader societal changes, the IOC passed Olympic Agenda 2020, and subsequently established the New Norm, a set of reforms to provide host cities with increased flexibility and more assistance.

While the preparation and delivery of the Games is one aspect, we are also seeing a shift in the product itself. Traditional sports which feature in the Olympics, such as athletics and swimming, are a mainstay. But it is the addition of ‘urban’ sports into the Olympic programme, such as sport climbing and skateboarding, that is the current trend. Urban sports can typically be defined as sports that are performed in city environments as opposed to prepared fields, and there is good reason for host cities to continue to focus on such events:

  • Reduced cost - Urban sports are typically much less demanding of resources than more traditional sports. Event organisers can be very efficient regarding the construction of stadia and associated facilities, often utilizing existing urban spaces.
  • Ease of access - By 2050, it is predicted that more than two-thirds of the world population will live in urban areas. Developing sports that can be easily delivered in these areas, without needing extensive space, is not only a choice but also a necessity if host cities want to drive participation and engagement in sport.
  • Enhanced legacy – By focusing on their urban environments, host cities can utilize the Olympics as a true catalyst for the transformation of their inner-city spaces, without the risk of building capital intensive infrastructure. Practically speaking, this can also be extremely useful for garnering political support for such bidding projects.

Though originally seen as something ‘underground’, the growth of urban sports in the Olympic Movement to date is testament to their wider appeal. Since the creation of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), urban sports have had the opportunity to experiment and finetune their products. One of the main takeaways from Tokyo 2020 was the success of urban events making their Olympic debut, such as 3x3 basketball, BMX freestyle, skateboarding and sport climbing.

The positive response received by these sports from fans worldwide should definitely be a consideration for host cities. Now would be an interesting time for host cities to invest in these and maximise on their potential to the fullest.