There are several good reasons people head to the beach every summer. Maybe it is the ability to relax on a sunbed, toasting in the heat, while forgetting all the trials and tribulations of life back home. Perhaps it is the opportunity to go swimming or surfing, depending on how strong the waves are. Then, there are the prime locations for a spot of beach kata.
Hang on. Beach kata.
Those two words raised a couple of eyebrows during the presentation of the San Diego 2019 World Beach Games during last week’s Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) General Assembly.
Having spent the past two years deciding on the sports for the inaugural edition of the Games, there was a lot of intrigue as to what organisers San Diego 2019 and ANOC would come up with. Particularly, given they had successfully managed to keep their cards to their chests for so long.
There were many you could have guessed from the moment the Games were awarded to San Diego in Washington during 2015. Beach soccer and beach volleyball were bankers for the multi-sport event, along with surfing.
Others were less certain. Cynically, I could not help wondering whether some international federations had decided to launch their own “Beach World Championships” in the months following as an attempt to shoehorn their place on the Beach Games programme.
At risk of taking Damian Collins' title as the self-appointed policeman of world sport, I fear I might have to make a similar statement I made in my blog last week. Just as putting sport in the name of an activity does not make it a sport, placing your sport on a beach does not automatically make it a “beach sport”.
In my view, the sports contested at the Games need to have some genuine association to either the beach or the sea.
Surfing, open water swimming and the beach versions of soccer, tennis and volleyball absolutely fit into this idea, along with wakeboarding, waterskiing and kiteboarding. Beach handball, which has had seven World Championships to date, would be another to get a tick.
BMX freestyle, 3x3 basketball, skateboarding, bouldering, duathlon, karate beach kata and wrestling fall into another, one word, category.
With the greatest of respect, the first three of those have been recently dubbed as “urban” events when they were added to the Tokyo 2020 sport programme. They do not exactly spring to mind when you head down to the beach.
Unless you are climbing a cliff near a beach, I am not entirely sure why the sport is there. Aquathlon, which features swimming and running, would seem to be more suited to the Beach Games than its cousin duathlon.
As for wrestling and karate, I just cannot understand their perceived link to the beach to entitle them a place on the programme. In fact, if you search for beach kata online, you are inundated with results for a beach in Phuket, rather than the sport of karate.
Maybe I am just being a misery guts about this. After all, several of the sports I have listed have featured in previous editions of the Asian Beach Games, which the global edition has arguably spawned from. My colleague Nick Butler has expressed disappointment that a cross-country event on sand and coastal rowing has not made the cut. He claimed the pair were the best sports at Phuket 2014, stating that the former was “brutal”.
It is quite possible that when the Games comes around, I will be blown away by the sports I have questioned and be wondering why I even questioned it in the first place.
It is, after all, the first edition of the event. There does seem a lot to like about the programme.
I enjoyed watching beach soccer immensely at the Baku 2015 European Games, with the event proving spectacular and fast paced. Surfing, you feel, will also be a central point to the event, with stand-up paddle and shortboard disciplines included.
It appears a far greater fit in the World Beach Games programme than at the Olympic Games. Dare I say it, but you wonder whether this could be the sport’s permanent home after Tokyo 2020. Given the choice of a potential peripheral Olympic sport or the go-to sport at the World Beach Games, it would seem obvious that it is the one to pick. Surfing will, of course, strive to be at both.
The relatively low budget of the Games, compared to the figures mooted a couple of years ago, appears to give organisers close to a free-hit at the concept. It seems likely that some elements are going to work, while others will need to be tweaked in future editions.
The use of virtual and augmented reality, as explained by San Diego 2019 chairman Vincent Mudd, follows the increasing blueprint for major events as they attempt to attract a youthful audience. There are claims the Games will be sustainable, with just three temporary stadiums being required at Mission Beach and promises it will not leave a footprint on San Diego.
One concern does relate to the number of athletes likely to attend, with initial estimates having ranged from 3,000 to 5,000. The figure was reportedly lowered to around 2,000 prior to the ANOC General Assembly. At the press conference after the presentation, it was revealed that only 1,353 athletes are now likely.
When you consider that Lausanne 2020 were stating nearly 1,900 athletes will attend the Winter Youth Olympics, the sum put forward by San Diego does seem remarkably low. It makes claims that between 70 to 80 National Olympic Committees will take part appear rather optimistic.
Despite this, I must say I am quite looking forward to seeing how this concept unfolds over the next two years. It has been a rather sluggish start, considering the Games were pushed back from 2017 to 2019, while largely there has been silence about what has been happening. Or whether it would even be happening at all.
This week has felt like a big step forward for the World Beach Games. Particularly if ANOC’s claims that four cities have expressed interest in hosting upcoming editions are true.