You either love the idea, or hate it.
That was the reaction I saw last Thursday across social media after the Paris 2024 Olympic Games organizing committee announced it would recommend that breakdancing be added to the sport program.
People were either ‘woke’ to the possibility, or confused about it. They were either young, or not young.
They were among the demographic the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is pursuing with the new “sport”, or they were not.
I probably shouldn’t have used quotation marks around the word sport. It will soon be difficult to argue the authenticity of the dance style as a legitimate sport, especially after gold medals are handed out to champion b-boys and b-girls. And be assured, there will be medals, and many of them because Breaking (the accepted way to describe the art-sport dance genre) is going to be around in the Olympics for a while.
Perhaps Breaking could even be the booster shot that the Olympics need to stay relevant for years to come.
Technically, the four sports that were named by Paris 2024 need to first win approval from the IOC Executive Board in March before the full IOC membership gives its blessing in June. Then, the IOC will give final sign-off in December 2020.
Consider this to be all just an academic exercise – it’s clear Breaking, climbing, surfing and skateboarding were already selected with close coordination between Paris 2024 and the IOC.
For Breaking, the IOC turned to World DanceSport (WDSF) to set up a tournament at last year’s Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games (YOG), and it was considered an unmitigated success.
The IOC, during it’s Olympism in Action Forum held just ahead of the YOG, made clear that they were searching for ways to appeal to a new youthful audience as interest in the Olympics from this demographic continues to wane.
And suddenly, Breaking is proposed for the program. It’s a lock.
With no permanent venues to be built, Breaking can be staged with temporary seating in any outdoor urban space – and think of how much of that Paris has to offer.
But Breaking, along with the other three choices announced last week, has only been invited to Paris and not as a core sport that will appear on the program regularly in future Olympics.
Confused? Here’s the low-down:
A product of the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, each Summer Games organizing committee has the option to add a selection of sports to their own programs, with the intent of showcasing those that have relevance in the host nation.
Breaking, along with surfing, climbing and skateboarding, are proposed by Paris 2024 to be staged at their Games only. If these sports are to be included at subsequent editions, each sport must then re-apply.
These sports will be in addition to the 25 core sports that were staged at the Rio 2016 Games and are also scheduled for the Tokyo 2020 edition and again in Paris, barring any IOC suspensions of governing sports federations (and we’re watching weightlifting, a troubled sport that may lose its spot in 2024 due to doping violations, but more on that another time.)
Surfing, climbing and skateboarding were already selected to be staged at the Tokyo 2020 Games after the Japanese organizers accepted bids from the three sports three years ago.
They have now been welcomed back by the French organizers.
The sports of Karate, and baseball/softball are also included on the Tokyo 2020 program due to their deep cultural links in Japan. In Paris, these sports don’t resonate, so they have been left behind.
According to the the WDSF, France is second only to the U.S. in the number of active Breaking athletes, estimated at 1 million and many of those under the age of 18.
In a survey released by Paris 2024 just a day after the announcement, 79 percent across France have a positive opinion of the four sports, and 89 percent if you count only those aged 15 to 25 years.
Paris 2024 organizers hoped to add sports that appeal to the youth of France, and it appears they did just that.
But there is even more forward thinking involved in the choice of Breaking as a new sport, one that could give it more solid footing as a fixture in the Olympic Games.
At the same time Paris was awarded the 2024 Games by the IOC in 2017, Los Angeles was signed on for 2028 – and that American epicenter for sports, art and culture will have the same ability to recommend sports to its program.
Assuming all goes well for Breaking in 2024, it will be a safe bet for the 2028 program in the United States, where the sport was created. And while I’m making predictions, it’s hard to imagine the LA 2028 organizing committee not also welcoming back surfing and skateboarding – and certainly pushing for the return of baseball and softball after a one-Games absence. But I’ll leave it to the folks in California to make that decision.
But will it go well for Breaking in 2024?
The WDSF has much to do to evolve its inexperienced organization into one that can properly support an Olympic sport, and once on the program there will be plenty of help and funding available for that.
But if youth culture remains immersed in social media, the answer will be a resounding ‘yes.’
Breaking is pervasive in social media, with its message echoed by popular influencers and strong ties to hip hop culture. Battle sets (the format proposed for the Games) are short, exciting and entertaining – and can be easily shared and consumed in short videos, gifs and memes. Isn’t that how so many of us communicate now?
The moves can be mimicked and performed by anyone, without any equipment, in a playground or living room. The sport is universally accessible, and broadly enjoyed.
Millions are even virtually Breaking with digital emotes in the wildly popular Fortnite video game.
It is easy to see why Breaking was such a success at the Youth Olympics, and why the Youth Olympics enjoyed a boost because of them.
The same synergy could be felt in Paris too.
If Olympic Breaking draws the attention of today’s distracted and digitally plugged-in youth, then maybe they’ll also become re-engaged with the broader Olympic program. At least that’s what the IOC hopes in its attempt to secure the continued mass appeal of the Olympics for years to come.
But really, Breaking isn’t just for youth – is it?
Breaking got its cultural foothold in the early 1980’s when Michael Jackson took his first famous Moonwalk during a live performance of hit song Billie Jean. It soon became a popular mainstream dance phenomenon appearing in feature movies such as Flashdance, and the guilty pleasures of many current quinquagenarians (that’s those in their 50’s) – Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Many spectators of all ages will wax nostalgic as they’re entertained by young Breaking Olympians.
Not long ago, Paris 2024 Chief Tony Estanguet was discussing the possibility of welcoming esports to the Olympic Games. His thoughts were met by massive public outrage.
But certainly most ‘older’ Olympic fans can warm to the idea of Olympic Breaking, a dance discipline that requires training and athletic skill – and can embody all of the ideals of Olympism.
Paris 2024 could have chosen to instead feature squash – the intense, small footprint racquet sport that has now failed four consecutive bids for Olympic inclusion – and nobody would’ve complained. But would that have meant nobody really cared either?
It’s time for an Olympic shake up. It’s time for Breaking to drop it to a downrock (Google it) and help transition the Games to a new generation.
It’s time for the world’s youth to show everyone else how it’s done.