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Olympics adds 4 sports to attract younger audience

Dec 13,2017
Speed skating mass start race, snowboard big air, curling mixed doubles and the alpine ski team event will all make their debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. Though men’s and women’s parallel giant slalom will no longer be an event, the four new events have increased the total number of gold medals to 102.

The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (Pocog) made ten recommendations to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for new events in January 2015. Through budget impact assessments, final decisions were made in June 2015.

The most important factor the IOC considered behind the selection was “youth appeal,” to attract a younger audience. Snowboard big air is expected to make it possible, as it’s an extreme sport where snowboarders jump off a launch pad about 30 meters (98 feet) in height and 100 meters in length, to perform multiple rotations, different flips and grabs.

“Big air is an event that the teenagers go crazy for on social media,” said Kim Do-kyun, professor of sports marketing at Kyunghee University. “It is the most effective sport to materialize into a digital content. It can be seen that the IOC added the event to have younger people involved. As it has been proven that new events had 10 percent higher audience rating, it can be the IOC’s strategy in selecting extreme sport rather than traditional sports.”

At the Sochi Winter Olympics, the IOC added a total of 12 new events, eight of them being extreme sports. After this, Sports Illustrated reported that the decision was made “to make Winter Games younger, hipper, edgier and more robust.” For this same reason, sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding have been added as new events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

According to the television broadcasting company NBC, a majority of viewers were in their 50s or older, and viewer ratings have been decreasing for each successive Olympic Games.

“Only one-third of ticket sales are made compared to the Summer Olympics,” Kim said. “Winter Olympics is more like a media-centered event. This means that the market depends on consumers’ selections, so only the events that can survive through the media eventually remain at the Olympics.”

When the IOC released its “Agenda 2020” in December 2014, it emphasized the need for gender equality. To successfully balance the participation of male and female athletes, the IOC granted more female participants in ski jumping, snowboarding and biathlon events. In biathlon, the IOC made men’s and women’s quarters equal, for a total of 115 participating in biathlon.

At the PyeongChang Olympics, two mixed team events, the alpine ski team event and curling mixed doubles, have been added. The other two, speed skating mass start and snowboard big air, have men’s and women’s divisions. Of a total of 2,943 athletes participating, 1,267, or 43 percent, will be female.

“The IOC added more mixed team events by reducing the number of events competed in by male athletes,” said Yoon Gang-ro, director of the International Sports Research Center. “Since Jacques Rogge served his time as IOC president, the IOC has shown great interest in gender equality. And from the current IOC president Thomas Bach’s strong initiative, they are making it happen. The participation rate of female athletes is projected to be 48.8 percent by the Tokyo Olympics.”

BY KIM WON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]