WILL THE OLYMPICS DESTROY SKATEBOARDING?
We've all heard that skateboarding will be the next addition to the Olympic games 2020. What does that mean for skateboarders and skateboarding itself?
On one side of the coin athletes could see financial gain. Skaters will be exposed to global audiences and could pick up endorsements and sponsorships depending on how they perform, which can result in financial gain for the athletes. Statistically speaking though, a very small amount of participating athletes will see any financial gain from competing. In so many words, for every Michael Phelps, there's hundreds of people that see no long term benefit from participating. Or to be put so simply, you don't get paid for coming in third. "What you see is athletes that stay long enough to make an Olympic team, but then quit because they can't make a living, and they can't ensure their future financially," Lowell Bailey the leader of the US biathlon team said, via NPR. "Imagine if you're a doctor and you go to work and don't know whether or not you're gonna get a paycheck. That's the life of a U.S. biathlete"
On the other side of the coin, what does competition say about the cultural aspects of skateboarding. You can argue that competition gave us the 900, but you may not be taking into account that competition didn't invent the kickflip. What I mean is that competition can push the boundaries of what can be done on a skateboard, but historically, skateboarding has been pushed further by personal expression.
Skateboard culture wasn't born under the scrutiny of judges or in 45 second lines. It came from the idea of being rebellious and independent. Skateboarding is about freedom and personal expression. The soul of skateboarding can't truly grow under the weight of leader boards, formatted runs and potential endorsement.
But to be fair maybe some context can be given by analyzing the history of similar events in the Olympics and the Olympics as a whole.
We can first look at the case with snowboarding. It was first included in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Many "core" riders saw their love being "whored out" for the gain of Olympic organizers. According to Pro Snowboarder Terje Haakenson in an article for Whitelines.com, "They destroyed the International Snowboard Federation, which at that point had been doing fine. And we’re still feeling the repercussions of that today. Every four years we mess up our own tour just so people can go to this one event where basically they own you. I mean, you can’t even pack your own bag, some nations say you can’t even use your own social media ‘cos they want to control all the media. The sponsorship is controlled, and people have to suddenly promote Coca Cola and McDonalds. It’s really hard to understand why you would go along with this. There’s just no respect for the history and culture of snowboarding at all.”
Could this story be a precursor to what may happen to Olympic skateboarding? Quite possibly and with arguable probability but there’s an up side to this.
Skateboarding itself, to you and I (assuming that we aren't competing in the Olympics lol) was born from contention, rebellion and scrutiny and embodies freedom, art and personal expression. No competition, league, club or team can change that. Skateboarding as a whole, with regard to it's cultural input and artistic foundation will always be safe, if it means more to you and I, than being 1st.