New Olympic sports: the mediatization of action sports through the Olympic Games 2020 Tokyo

Prof Thomas Horky

Professor at Macromedia University of applied sciences in Hamburg/Germany. He worked as a journalist and at the University of Hamburg and German Sports University in Cologne. Horky published several international contributions. In 2018, he was visiting professor at Indiana University in Bloomington/IN.
Twitter: @thomashorky

Section 2: Media Coverage & Representation

One of the most remarkable moments of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics occured very early in the first week inside the Ariake Urban Sports Park. Maybe it was not the most important moment, but a moment symbolizing an upcoming future of the games nonetheless. With just 42 years, the medal podium of women’s skateboarding competition was the youngest group of medalists ever in Olympic history. Thirteen year-old Japanese Momiji Nishiya as the first gold medalist in skateboarding, followed by Rayssa Leal from Brazil with the same age and the second Japanese athlete Funa Nakayama, being the oldest medalist with 16 years of age.

This scenery showcases challenges and solutions for the future of the Olympics and for the sport itself in one Olympic moment. Skateboarding as one of five new sports in Tokyo presents the inclusion of the next action sport into the Olympic program. The mega-event has been searching intensively for a younger audience for several decades to generate new ways of attention and sponsorship to freshen up the look and feel of a competition getting older every four years. The question arises, what does this Olympic blood replacement do with action sports?

Olympic mediatization

Thorpe and Wheaton (2011) used a post-subcultural studies approach defining the intersections and problems between the lifestyle or sports and corporations like the IOC or media conglomerates with the inclusion of windsurfing into the Olympics in 1984, snowboarding in 1998, and bicycle motocross (BMX) in Beijing in 2008. Thorpe and Wheaton concluded, “in particular, the reactions to and effects of, the inclusion of each action sport into the Olympic model are influenced by the cultural status and economic power of the action sport culture and industry during the incorporation process“ (p. 13). 

With skateboarding, surfing, climbing, karate and soft-/baseball, five new sports for 2020 Tokyo were announced by the IOC on August 3, 2016 (, 2016). In a five-year process, these sports became part of the Olympic program, adapting IOC’s rules and regulations, attracting new sponsorships and athletes, turning into the media focus and getting attention and professionalization on different levels. This process can be defined as a mediatization of sport (Frandsen, 2020). In a research project in May and June, we conducted several in-depth interviews with athletes, coaches, and media persons of these action sports in Germany. In this contribution, I will present some results for skateboarding.

Skateboarding entering the Olympic program

The idea of skateboarding as riding on asphalt waves was invented in the 1950s. Schwier and Kilberth (2018) described skateboarding as an extraordinary way for (sporting) life and an element of lifestyle for individuals. Looking to the Tokyo Olympics, the skateboarding scene was divided with one part hoping for higher recognition and more memberships, bigger financial resources and attention by mass media, and another part fearing the impact of the Olympic mega-event, professionalization, and a form of disempowerment for athletes. While the influence of contests like the X games has already changed the sport, skateboarding seems much more important for the Olympics than the Olympics for skateboarding.

“We skaters will profit from new sponsors through the Olympics,“ the former German and European champion Alex Mizurov stated in an interview. “By being included in the Olympics, we hope for money, support and recognition of different areas.“ The 33 year-old professional athlete is looking into a bright future: “Skateboarding will adjust to media and grow on different levels. By 2030, the membership will double worldwide. For this new Olympic generation, the sport will be bigger and more organized with the addition of new skater parcs and professional federations.“ In opposition, the member of a German regional skateboard federation, Daniel Schindler, mentioned: “Skateboarding will never be highlighted by mass media, even if it becomes an Olympic sport. We skaters wanted a new organizational structure, and the games turned skateboarding into a commercial event.“ The interviews presented distinguish developments of the mediatization of skateboarding on a societal, institutional, and structural level (Horky, 2009). The sport seems to be losing its lifestyle attitude, while transforming into a regulated professional sport. A deeper analysis will be prepared.

Digital conclusion

“Skateboarding is more than a sport, it’s art,“ US-skater Jagger Eaton stated, going live on Instagram seconds after winning the bronze medal in Tokyo. One Olympic goal has already been reached: “These Games are expected to be the most digitally engaged Games ever,” said Christopher Carroll, Director of Digital Engagement and Marketing for the IOC. Fans at home were particularly interested by the new action sports added to the Olympic program in Tokyo. The top tweet within the first week was about Rayssa Leal, the 13-year-old Brazilian silver medalist, which attracted 460,000 likes ( 2021).