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Tue, 10 Dec 2019 02:47 GMT

‘Breaking’: great dance, bad sport


Andrew Longmore

Wed, 27 Feb 2019 14:36 GMT

The news that breakdancing – or ‘breaking’ as they say on the street – is likely to be included on the list of sports for the 2024 Games in Paris, provides further proof that the Olympic movement has lost its way. Next summer in Tokyo, the world will be able to watch surfing for the first time as an Olympic sport, as well as karate, skateboarding and climbing. Baseball and softball return to the schedule, presumably as a sop to the US television networks, whose audiences for Olympic sport have been in decline. 

Breakdancing, an acrobatic style of dance ‘invented’ in America in the seventies, will probably add another gold to the US medal tally in Paris, but will add very little to the credibility of the Olympic Games, not least because the break-dancers themselves couldn’t care less whether they were an Olympic sport or not. There is even a dispute about who owns and runs the sport, that’s how prepared break-dancing is for Olympic inclusion.

“Breaking” was chosen by the organisers of Paris 2024 ahead of squash, a sport now rejected four times. But its inclusion, which seems certain to be ratified by the IOC later this year, only heightens the feeling that the traditional values of the Olympics have been sacrificed in a desperate attempt to tap into youth culture, and expand global marketing opportunities. Nike will surely be planning an ‘Olympics 2024 break-dancing trainer’ right now.

The Olympics has to adapt and change or it will die. But it will die just as quickly if people, even young people who know when they are being patronised, think that the Olympics has turned into the X Games. A recent International Olympic Committee statement said that the Olympic programme needed to be ‘more youth focused and more urban.’ This is Olympic speak for ‘more American.’ For sure, not many kids in the backstreets of Chicago and Detroit will be heading for the squash courts in the near future, but kids in Karachi, Lahore and Cairo, cities which have produced a few good squash players, just might and they have a right to be heard too. Guess which country, after the USA, has the most registered participants in break-dancing? France. Not much of a focus on the rest of the world’s youth there then, not when France could win another gold medal.

The IOC have done some good work in updating the Olympic programme, and I will admit to being one of the sceptics when the fresh-faced half-pipers, free-skiers and snowboard dudes first infiltrated the traditional world of the alpine skiers at the Winter Games, introducing a new language and a new culture to snow sports. But they have been sensational, the stars of the show at the last two Games. So it might be with the skateboarders, the karate kids and the speed climbers in Tokyo.

The IOC have rightly pushed for gender equality in Olympic sports, and they are starting to realise the sporting and social potential of mixed events, which will feature for the first time in the programmes on the track (4x400m) and in the pool (medley relay) in Tokyo. The IOC is also acutely aware of the need to reduce costs, which means cutting down on numbers and events. A limit of 10,500 athletes in 28 core sports has been set by the IOC for Tokyo, and pressure will grow for anachronistic events like the modern pentathlon (running, riding and shooting), a throwback to the military influence of the early modern Games, to be replaced. Modern pentathlons have long been on the hit list of the new breed – yes, there are a few - of IOC members, but the president, Thomas Bach, will be aware that attempts to remove Greco-Roman wrestling from the schedule prompted such an uproar that it was swiftly reinstated. Removing golf and tennis would be my preferred option, both sports have their own well-established narratives and sources of funding. No tennis player or golfer grows up with dreams of winning Olympic gold. It’s just a nice bauble to have if you’ve won all the others.

Break-dancing’s dress rehearsal came last year when the head-to-head ‘battles’ on the dance floor were one of the highlights of the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires. The dancers competed under pseudonyms so the gold medal was won by ‘Bumblebee’, alias Serge Chernyshev from Russia. Clips of the contests can be viewed on YouTube. They are exciting and intense, opponents clap and encourage one another in accordance with the etiquette of the street. Moves are fluid and breathtakingly athletic and the result is utterly subjective, a matter of judgement rather than fact. It is certainly great dance: it’s just not Olympic sport.

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