Skateboarding could be included as a new discipline in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil thanks to new momentum from the International Olympic Committee, the Rio host committee, and an unlikely potential partnership between the International Skateboarding Federation (ISF) and the International Cycling Union (UCI).
Gary Ream, president of the executive committee of the ISF and owner of the Woodward action sports camps, was in London earlier this month, during the IOC's Executive Board meeting, and he participated in what he calls the IOC's "thought process" on bringing action sports to the Summer Games. He says there's cause for optimism that it's more than talk this time around and, more importantly, that it will be done right if it's going to happen at all.
"There are now people in the upper echelon of the IOC who are visionaries, including IOC sports director Christophe Dubi, people who get it and who are eager to bring these sports to the Games," Ream says.
Because of the time frame, there' s no way for skateboarding to be recognized as a new sport by the IOC with the ISF as a standalone federation in time for Rio. There is, however, a very real possibility for both skateboarding and BMX Freestyle to be brought in as new disciplines under the umbrella of UCI as a sanctioning body. As Ream explains it, the current proposal being discussed is to partner with UCI as a sanctioning body that defers to the ISF for sport governance. Anything less, says Ream, would be a deal breaker.
"UCI could, without much difficulty but through a lot of work, bring skateboarding into the UCI structure and onwards into the Olympic program," says UCI president Pat McQuaid. "UCI's relationship with [the ISF] is very good and we've had constructive discussions about the future."
The prospect of aligning with a cycling federation is less than appealing to many skateboarders, but, as Dave Carnie points out, "It could have been worse. It could have been rollerbladers."
Carnie is the Executive Director of USA Skateboarding (Ream is that organization's president), an organization that sprung up in 2003 to combat a push to include skateboarding in the Olympics that was headed up by USA Roller Sports; the national governing body for roller skating and inline skating.
"These roller skaters trying to claim control of skateboarding was almost as insane as a bunch of volleyball players trying to become the governing body of basketball," says Carnie. "I'm not sure I see how partnering with the UCI is any less absurd, but then again my own interest in seeing skateboarding in the Olympics is chiefly as an exercise in absurdity. Uniforms and drug tests for skateboarders? It will be delightfully ridiculous!"
Carnie, who became influential in skateboarding as an editor at the legendary skate magazine "Big Brother," is well loved in the sport for his sense of humor. But part of Ream's effort to ensure skateboarding in the Olympics won't be ridiculous includes ensuring that the UCI recognizes the USAS as skateboarding's national governing body in this country.
Efforts to bring skateboarding to the 2012 London Games stalled when Ream soured on the IOC's approach amidst fears of losing control over important decision-making that would determine how the sports would be presented and judged on the world stage. Ream says he's just as prepared to walk away from any deal for Rio -- including the proposed partnership with UCI -- that doesn't leave control of these sports with the people who are passionate about them.
"These sports don't necessarily need to be in the Games, and the non-competitive component of skateboarding, with or without the Games, will always be its heart and soul." Ream says, echoing Tony Hawk's oft-repeated statement that "The Olympics need us more than we need them."
Ream says his efforts are not necessarily borne out of a desire for Olympic recognition so much as a desire to ensure that if and when it happens it will be presented in a way that is true to the culture of the sports. "We have the luxury of not needing to hurry, and of being able to say 'No,'" says Ream. "We don't have to do anything but protect our position and make sure that it's not given out to somebody else that just doesn't get it, which would be disastrous for skateboarding and for the IOC."
According to ISF athlete representative and board member Neal Hendrix, "If skateboarding became an Olympic sport and the competition formats, courses, judging, and qualifying processes were all decided on by skateboarders, then that wouldn't frighten me. But if all those decisions are going to be made by people that are not skateboarders and are outside of skateboarding, then that scares the s--t of me."
"I've never harbored any dreams of competing in the Olympics as a skateboarder or watching skateboarding in the Olympics," says Hendrix. "But skateboarding is huge worldwide and since it seems to be heading in that direction my instinct is to do everything in my power to be protective as this process unfolds. I will say this: After competing in contests around the world I can say that there isn't a better place on Earth than Rio to introduce skateboarding to the Olympics."