No, surfing isn‘t in the Olympics, but if the IOC wants to increase viewership and relevancy among youth culture, they need to move faster when considering this sport and many others that ARE relevant such as skateboarding.

Story by Kathleen Gasperini and Ryley Bane

Here’s a case when more coverage to help an aging institution such as the Olympics, gets mired down in it own bureaucratic bigness. Last month, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) announced that they had formed a network deal with Comcast to form a cable channel dedicated to running Olympic content ranging from short clips, old footage, to athlete interviews, highlights, and shows that “promote the movement” in Olympic-speak. For a sports event losing many viewers and credibility, especially among a new media-savvy youth marketplace, it seemed like a great idea: get the Olympics out there on a network and in a format to more people.

Come to find out however that Timo Lumme, the television director of the Big Brother umbrella, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), sent a letter to the USOC “warning” that it was not cleared. The IOC was concerned that NBC, the main network for the Olympics in the USA, wouldn’t think too kindly of the USOC cable channel and could jeopardize their number 1 major sponsor of the Olympics.

According to a story in the New York Times, IOC TV “negotiator” Richard Carrion said, “We%uFFFDre saying we should have sat down before they did anything unilaterally.”

According to the USOC, they didn’t mean to piss-off the IOC, but it’s no secret that the USOC is the antagonizing bastard child for the IOC as their relationship at times seems strained. Then again, who doesn’t have a tough time with the IOC and their anachronistic systems in general?

Here at Label Networks, we continue to run stories based on IOC decisions that seem to demonize the very “movement” they’re trying to build, which is to get more people, especially young people, to care about the Olympics. For example, on August 13, the IOC announced several new Olympic sports for the 2012 London Games including Women’s Boxing, Mixed Tennis Doubles, and Canoe Sprint. Honestly, who can say they like watching canoe sprinting events? Or have ever even seen one? And yet the popular sport of softball, which was in the Olympics twice already before getting dumped, can’t get back in?

In addition, the IOC just announced the proposal of 2 new additonal sports for the 2016 Games (which Chicago is vying for to the chagrin of the IOC because then it would be in the USA again, giving more power to the USOC) including Rugby and Golf, beating out sports such as softball (again), baseball, karate, and “roller sports.” Why? This is what they had to say:

“All seven sports made a strong case for inclusion, and the EB [Executive Board] carefully evaluated them in a transparent and fair process. In the end, the decision came down to which two would add the most value,” said IOC President Jacques Rogge, who elected not to take part in the vote. “Golf and rugby will be a great addition to the Games.”

It gets even more interesting with this reasoning behind the decision: “The key factors in determining a sport’s suitability for the Olympic programme include youth appeal, universality, popularity, good governance, respect for athletes and respect for the Olympic values.”

While I may be the only one who’s reading the International Olympic Committee Reports these days, including the launch of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), its things like this that again makes the IOC sound incredibly antiquated and inspire revolutiuonary tactics among us working in youth culture markets.

For example, the IOC released a report not only about why and how they chose Singapore as the finalists for the Summer Youth Olympic Games for 14-18-year-olds, but also what their goals were for the YOG to begin with, including: 1) Integrate youth-relevant sports into the Olympic program (but they have ironically NOT included Snowboarding into the Youth Winter Games and are still trying to umbrella Skateboarding under Cycling); 2) Make urban culture a part of the Olympics; and 3) Increase interaction between athletes and young people through “new media channels.”

Reading press releases from the IOC feels like reading news that’s at least 15 years dated.

We have data that tracks exactly what young people 13-25-years-old most want to watch across the USA, Canada, 5 Western European countries, Japan, and China, and I’m telling you, its not the top 7 sports the IOC plans for the 2012 YOG, including Biathlon, Bobsledding, Curling, Ice Hockey, Luge, Skating, and Skiing.

I may have missed something here, but as a writer for a global youth culture intelligence company measuring top sports participation, favorite sports to learn and watch, it is incredibly irrelevant that Luge, Curling, Biathlon, and Bobsledding are even being considered. President Jacques Rogge has to be one of the oldest men on the planet if he thinks this is a good idea for integrating “youth-relevant” sports.

However, there may be another reason why the IOC is bringing on such uninteresting sports for 14-18-year-olds: To try and make these sports relevant again to a generation that could care less. For example, if there’s a YOG of these events, then maybe young people will train for them, thus making the real Olympics big, fat, and happy again once these athletes get older? It is such a long-shot, but why else is the IOC doing this? Those who witnessed Shaun White’s performance in the SuperPipe at the Winter X Games back in 2008, as one example, would concur that in comparison, the IOC plan to revitalize, say, Curling, among youth culture is not a good idea. Not to mention sponsors: Burton, one of the largest and most popular sporting brands in youth culture sports has a 10-year deal with Shaun White. Can you name the main sponsor of Canada’s teen Curling champ?

As the ridiculousness of the YOG plans progress, we can’t help but call out such really bad ideas. And it’s getting worse. The final IOC goal of connecting with urban culture is borderline to say the least. I doubt that Mr. Roggue has communed with “urban athletes” much in the past if ever. And if so, then maybe they should consider Parkour or street skateboarding (not to be confused with “roller sports”) in the Summer YOG, but of course, such hip sports would probably take another 15 years to be “recognized” by the Olympic Committee.

Ironically, as Label Networks has noted in previous stories, the actual events of the Youth Olympic Games for possible inclusion have to fall under “recognized” sports organizations of the Olympic Committee to be considered. So, for example, while skateboarding is being considered, it will be umbrella-ed under Cycling%u2014which the IOC “recognizes.” And after all, they both have wheels so there must be some similarity. (Such as the ill-fated thinking of putting snowboarding under the umbrella of skiing back in the day.) The other ill-conceived concept is that the Youth Olympic Games are for 14-18-year-olds. While this may seem like a grand opportunity for young people, it may also sabotage the real Olympics in that many of the top athletes are within this age group, i.e., gymnasts, divers, and so on.

Generally, the concept of the Youth Olympic Games is to provide new relevancy for the IOC and Olympics overall, however the IOC, an institution with decision-making that moves at glacial speed continues to also move in directions that are questionable for truly bringing about change and cred to the Olympic movement.

Which is a long-winded way of bringing me back to the USOC and their Olympic Channel. Seemed like a great idea especially for trying to gain more exposure for the Olympic movement, but currently, it looks like the USOC will have to debut it “modestly” after the Vancouver Olympics so as not to cut into the IOC/NBC-value.

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