While the Olympics remain the pinnacle of the sporting calendar for the traditional events, Kiwi experts are split over the addition of youth-focused sports in an attempt to remain relevant.
Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee announced the addition of five new sports to the Tokyo 2020 games – baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.
The announcement comes at a time when the younger generation’s enthusiasm in the Olympics is diminishing.
A Colmar Brunton survey of 1000 Kiwis found younger people planned to tune in less to the Rio games – 66 per cent of those under 40 planning on watching at least some of the games, compared to 77 per cent of those over 60.
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And just 35 per cent of Kiwis surveyed said they were excited about the Olympics.
So, do Kiwis still care about the Olympics? And are they still the best sport has to offer?
While big events like the opening ceremony and 100m final will always draw a crowd, other events may lack the glitz and glamour needed to draw the attention of arguably sports fatigued audiences.
Golf, basketball and rugby sevens don’t draw the best golfers, basketballers or rugby players in the world, so what’s to make audiences tune in?
The Olympics was the main sporting fix for older generations of Kiwis, with only a smattering of golf and rugby on television or the radio while they were growing up. And the tradition and hype around the Olympics seems to have stuck for many.
But for younger generations, who have been bombarded with the best-quality sportspeople constantly battling it out at non-stop world cups, the Olympics may not be enough to hook them in – especially if it means getting up in the wee hours of the morning.
IOC president Thomas Bach said the addition of the five new codes for the Tokyo 2020 games was about “taking sport to the youth”.
“With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them.”
Sport NZ chief executive Peter Miskimmin said the recent changes to the Olympic line-up, including the inclusion of the five new sports in 2020 was a move in the right direction.
“I think it is absolutely fantastic. While not diminishing from the traditions of the Olympic Games, the Games programme must reflect what is popular and relevant to people, young and old, around the world.
“The inclusion of the new sports in Rio (Golf and Rugby), but more importantly youth action sports (skate, surfing, speed climbing) in Tokyo, reflects this new attitude by IOC.
“I welcome it. I think adding other sports that help to maintain a strong youth focus can only help to attract more people to engage with the Olympics, whether that’s going to the Games, watching the broadcast or keeping track via apps and social media.”
New Zealand had a strong Olympic legacy and that wouldn’t be lost on young Kiwis, he said.
However, Olympic traditionalist Ron Palenski, who is also the director at New Zealand’s Sports Hall of Fame, said sports like golf and rugby didn’t have a place at the games.
The argument that it was a move to make the games more relevant to young people was “facetious”.
“The last time I looked, all the people running the 100m and cycling the 200m were young.”
The Olympics would always appeal to Kiwi audiences, young and old, who wanted to watch New Zealanders achieve on the world stage, Palenski said.
But the games should stick to its roots and focus on the traditional Olympic events, rather than selling out to new sports that want to “get on the gravy train”.
“What saddens me a wee bit is that it always used to be the best people from sport in the world.”
That was no longer the case with sports like golf, rugby sevens and basketball, and would most likely be the case when baseball was added.
The Colmar Brunton survey found only 35 per cent of those surveyed described themselves as excited about the games, the rest felt neutral at best.
But Palenski, who enjoys watching events involving Kiwis and the cycling road race, said he expected those attitudes to change once the games actually kicked off.
During the 2012 London Olympics, Prime’s viewership numbers spiked on the back of having the New Zealand TV rights to the Olympics.
And with the opening ceremony kicking things off on Saturday morning (NZT), there’s still time for Kiwis to change their attitudes towards the games.