Stab Magazine | Surfing Might Be The Only Olympic Sport You Can Spectate Live

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Surfing Might Be The Only Olympic Sport You Can Spectate Live

Coronas supplied per request. 

news // Mar 10, 2020
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The clock is ticking. And as much as organizers of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo would love to be optimistic right now, every day that brings new cases of the coronavirus around the world brings more anxiety that the Games could, in fact, be put on ice this summer.

As festivals and large gatherings are being canceled around the world and emergency plans are implemented to slow the spread of the contagion, the fate of the biggest sporting event in the world swings in the balance—and with it surfing’s gold-plated future. 

Japan is currently reporting more than 1,200 coronavirus cases and 16 deaths. Meanwhile, NBC has over $1-billion in ad money on the line and it’s estimated that over $850 million in ticket sales could be lost if fans are allowed to watch the Games live. Somewhere in between the raging pandemic and economic pressure falls the priority of the health and safety of the athletes, coaches and officials that actually make the Olympics what they are.

Rather than cancel the Tokyo Games outright, one option that is currently being discussed is to still hold the Olympics without any spectator viewing. It’s not that far fetched as sporting events in Italy are already taking this precaution with pro teams battling each other in empty stadiums. 

Also, the whole of Italy is on lockdown as of today. Crazy.

The New York Times has reported that the World Health Organization held a conference call with the medical experts for dozens of international sports federations that tend to the health and fitness of the Games’ athletes.

“The discussion turned to worst-case scenarios for the Olympic Games, and the risks and benefits of a fan-free Olympics,” read the Times report.

“Holding fan-free competitions, with only sports officials and broadcasters as spectators, was one of a number of options suggested for managing large sporting events in the weeks and months before the Games,” it continued.

So, what does that mean for surfing’s Olympic debut? For starters, the ISA will need to make a decision about the 2020 World Surfing Championship, where the final qualifiers for the Olympics will emerge. The contest is set to take place this May in El Salvador. 

Freesurf Day 3 ISA Ben Reed 221 1024x683

Then it depends on what the IOC decides to do in Japan. Surfing would probably be fine if they disallowed spectators. When you strip down a surf contest to its barest essentials, all you really need are some surfers and some judges. Then if they beam that out via broadcast it wouldn’t be much different than how 99% of surf fans watch contests already. So, if need be, surfing can run pretty lean.  

That said, compared to most Olympic sports that take place in stadiums or other confined areas, surfing is one event that you can watch just by being at the beach. In that sense, it might be the only sport in the Tokyo Games that you could still live-spectate should the IOC disallow spectators. If this happens, you’ll see Ashton and myself standing on SUPs 100 meters down the beach with a pair of binoculars and bucket of calamari between us. 

And the possibility of a non-onlooker Olympics is not unfounded. Just today it came to light that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch lighting ceremony in Greece will take place without spectators. 

“Only 100 accredited guests from the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee,” will be allowed reports CNN.  

The ceremony is scheduled to take place this Thursday at Olympia. The torch will then be flown to Japan, where it will presumably be disinfected.


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