Every four years, for about two weeks, I hop on the bandwagon and become heavily invested in sports that pretty much never cross my mind when the Olympic cauldron isn’t lit.
Sprint canoeing? Sign me up. Diving? I’d feel comfortable accepting a spot on the judging panel at this point. Water polo? Sure, I’ll spend a few minutes watching two teams attempt to drown each other in the name of sport.
I’ve always loved the Olympics. I love the suspense of the underdog and comeback stories, and of nail-biter races. I love seeing people living out their dreams and pushing the boundaries of human ability. Seeing Canadians proving our superiority to other countries will never fail to bring me joy, and I particularly love the way the Olympics, for the most part, puts women’s sports on an equal pedestal to men’s.
But I don’t love everything about the Olympics.
There are many serious issues associated with the Games, from the environmental and socioeconomic costs, to corruption, political controversies and power imbalances, to the way this massive business can highlight inequalities. This time around, there’s even the debate around whether or not the Games should be happening at all, considering the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This column is about none of those. The issue here is about the identity crisis that is obviously plaguing the International Olympic Committee (IOC). An identity crisis that prompted them to last December officially add breakdancing—or “breaking,” as it was initially called by the New Yorkers who pioneered it in the ‘70s—to the events roster for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.
I thought it was a joke when I first read the headlines months ago. But no, it wasn’t a story published by The Onion. Following a successful test run at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Argentina, the addition is one of several new sports the IOC has added to the Games—like sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding—in an effort to draw in a younger crowd of viewers.
Breaking should not be an Olympic sport.
This is the hill I’m willing to die on.
All right, that was a touch dramatic. In all honesty, I could easily be pushed off this hill and swayed by other opinions. And despite the fact that I used to be able to whip out a pretty rad coffee grinder back in the day, I’m neither an Olympian nor a breakdancer, so my opinion shouldn’t count for much anyway.
I’m not trying to minimize the very real strength and talent breakdancers need to have, or the amount of time, dedication and training they need to put in to be among the best in the world. But in my mind, it just seems like such a strange choice for the Olympics.
It seems odd to add another sport that is equally a subjective art form, when there have been so many calls for longstanding Olympic sports like ice dancing to update scoring regulations to be less subjective. And to me, it seems odd to add one form of dance while ignoring the many others. Does making breaking an Olympic sport open the door for ballroom, ballet or cheerleading, for example, to have the same opportunity?
It just doesn't seem to fit.
That’s not to say I disagree with all of the IOC’s new additions. The skateboarding and surfing events that debuted in Tokyo were so fun to watch—even if they're also judged, to a degree, on style, and even if the Olympics needs those sports and their already massive fan bases more than those sports need any help from the IOC.
I don’t know enough about breaking to know if it could benefit from the exposure that a massive platform like the Olympics can offer, or if it's already a popular enough event to help pull in the kind of viewers the IOC is looking to connect with. But it does meet the IOC’s goal of including more TV-friendly sports that don’t require expensive purpose-built venues, and it can also help the Summer Games achieve the 50/50 gender balance the IOC is striving to hit for the first time in Paris. (Women’s participation in the Tokyo Games is 49 per cent, up from 45 per cent in Rio five years ago.) More than that, I can definitely get behind the argument that breaking will be one of the few Olympic sports that originated in communities of colour, instead of another event invented or governed by a bunch of white dudes.
These are all important goals that the IOC needs to consider, but is breaking the sport to help the Olympics achieve them?
I can admit that there have been, and continues to be, stranger Olympic sports. If walking, rhythmic gymnastics and horse dancing (better known as dressage) are still Olympic sports, why can't breaking be?
Honestly, maybe I just swayed my own opinion. We all know I’ll probably watch it anyway.