SEE

BOTH IN QUES­TION BE­YOND TOYKO GAMES AS ‘CORE SPORTS’ TAKE PRECE­DENCE Though both rugby and golf have raised the bar, Olympic lead­ers will be closely look­ing at new sports to bring in a young crowd. Skate­board­ing is among the new sports tempt­ing the In­tern

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Rugby and golf thrived on their re­turn to the Olympics af­ter a cen­tury away, but will face new chal­lengers in the battle to re­tain a place be­yond the Toyko 2020 Games.

Base­ball/soft­ball, karate, sport climb­ing, surf­ing and skate­board­ing will all be in­cluded in Ja­pan and will be anx­ious to make a good im­pres­sion to get a pos­si­ble place among the so­called “core sports” with ac­cess to Olympic riches. There is no doubt that rugby and golf raised the bar, de­spite a host of male golf stars stay­ing away. Both have places as­sured for 2020, but the con­test starts to keep that place and Olympic lead­ers will be look­ing closely at the new sports that bring in the young crowd. Rugby’s last Olympic in­car­na­tion was as a men’s 15-a-side tour­na­ment in 1924 won by the United States. The high-oc­tane ab­bre­vi­ated rugby sev­ens on of­fer this time did not dis­ap­point. The 10-leg Sev­ens World Se­ries is pulling in in­creas­ing crowds. Aus­tralia won the women’s con­test at the 15,000-ca­pac­ity Deodoro Sta­dium and home in­ter­est was cap­tured as the Brazil­ian women bat­tled to fin­ish ninth of the 12 teams, to guar­an­tee a spot on next sea­son’s world se­ries.

Fiji won their first medal of any colour when they smashed Bri­tain in the men’s fi­nal, de­liv­er­ing one of the most com­plete dis­plays of sev­ens rugby ever seen in front of a rau­cous, sell­out crowd. The tour­na­ment also fea­tured the biggest up­set in sev­ens his­tory as Ja­pan de­feated world cham­pi­ons New Zealand. The teams “show­cased the very best of our sport and its char­ac­ter-build­ing val­ues, demon­strat­ing why we be­lieve it is a per­fect fit for the Olympic Games,” said World Rugby chair­man Bill Beau­mont. Beau­mont said rugby’s in­clu­sion in the Olympics had been a “gamechanger”. “Since be­ing voted back on to the pro­gramme in 2009, we have seen par­tic­i­pa­tion dou­ble to 7.73 mil­lion and we are de­ter­mined to max­imise the Rio 2016 halo ef­fect,” the for­mer Eng­land skip­per said. Golf, mak­ing its Olympic re­turn af­ter a 112-year ab­sence, was hit by the with­drawals of more than 20 top play­ers in­clud­ing North­ern Ir­ish­man Rory McIl­roy and top-ranked Ja­son Day. While the top four might have been ab­sent, world num­ber five Hen­rik Sten­son took sil­ver, with world num­ber 12 Justin Rose crowned Olympic cham­pion. Mr McIl­roy said last month that he didn’t rank golf as a “real” Olympic sport. But Mr Rose, the 2013 US Open cham­pion, said the Olympics had “res­onated with a wider au­di­ence, far wider than the US Open vic­tory did. It is not just golf fans. It’s sports fans as a whole.” Mr Rose said the miss­ing golfers would have to take note. “It’s not go­ing to sit well with them. It’s an op­por­tu­nity that comes around so rarely. Hope­fully they are go­ing to take the op­por­tu­nity in 2020.”

In­ter­na­tional Golf Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Peter Daw­son said an es­ti­mated 10,000 peo­ple watched the men’s fi­nal round and pre­dicted more would come out in Ja­pan. “What they have wit­nessed on tele­vi­sion will make them re­alise they have missed out on a great event.” The women’s com­pe­ti­tion fea­tured all the top play­ers. South Korea’s Park In-Bee, a sev­en­time ma­jor win­ner, beat world num­ber one Ly­dia Ko of New Zealand for gold. “I have won ma­jors, but I haven’t won a gold medal, so this feels very, very spe­cial. To hear our na­tional an­them be­ing played over the golf course was just amaz­ing,” she said of the Olympic ex­pe­ri­ence. Surf­ing, skate­board­ing and karate enter the fray promis­ing a young fol­low­ing against rugby and golf ’s richer and mainly mid­dle-aged fol­low­ers.

In­ter­na­tional Surf­ing As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Fer­nando Aguerre said it had taken “decades of hard work” to per­suade the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee grandees. “We are al­ready see­ing increased pop­u­lar­ity of the sport across the world and the Olympic Games will pro­vide an in­cred­i­ble plat­form,” he said. “With its unique and mod­ern blend of sport per­for­mance, style and youth cul­ture, surf­ing will help de­liver some­thing spe­cial to the Games,” he said. Skate­board­ing is promis­ing the same edgy ap­peal that tempts the IOC. Some young skate­board­ers have ex­pressed fears that be­ing in the main­stream Olympics will take away the sport’s cool cache. But Sochi Win­ter Olympics snow­board­ing cham­pion Yuri Pod­ladtchikov is among those tempted to try the new sport in Tokyo. None of the sports can af­ford to be off-bal­ance. The IOC has warned that it will con­sider whether top stars take part in assess­ing who gets a place af­ter 2020. That was a mes­sage to golf. It should also be noted by base­ball whose ma­jor league stars in the United States have not com­mit­ted to ap­pear­ing in Tokyo.

Surf­ing, skate­board­ing and karate enter the fray promis­ing a young fol­low­ing against rugby and golf’s richer and mainly mid­dle-aged fol­low­ers.

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