Breaking: not bad, all good for 2024

For many people, the announcement Thursday that Paris 2024 seems set to to include breakdancing as an Olympic sport was met with — say what?

No, for real. 

Let’s get real. 

If you are complaining that “breaking,” as it’s called in Olympic jargon, doesn’t belong on the Summer Games program but you swoon every Winter Games when the ice dancers do their luscious thing — come on.

Beyond that, and finally — the French finally did something right. 

Let’s give credit where it’s due: the French got this totally right. 

Russia's Bumblebee, left, competes against Japan's Shigelix during a Buenos Aires 2018 breakdancing — or in Olympic jargon, ‘breaking’ — competition // Getty Images

Russia's Bumblebee, left, competes against Japan's Shigelix during a Buenos Aires 2018 breakdancing — or in Olympic jargon, ‘breaking’ — competition // Getty Images

Just two weeks after French president Emmanuel Macron went public with a complaint that some of Paris’ poorest districts are failing to see the benefits of the 2024 project, organizers announced that breaking, along with sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing, would be proposed for inclusion as additional sports on the program.

The International Olympic Committee must yet give its OK. That seems hugely likely.

Tony Estanguet, the Paris 2024 chairman, said inclusion of these four sports would make the Olympics “more urban” and “more artistic.”These are keywords that resonate at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Baseball and softball? Karate? These will be on the Tokyo 2020 program. But not more urban and not more artistic. 

Squash, snooker, chess, all of which also sought a Paris play — not urban and not artistic, at least not in the buzzword way the IOC wants. 

To that end, the Paris 2024 people also announced Thursday — these next two pieces got way less attention but are actually way more important — that, first, the general public would be able to run the marathon course the same day as the event, directly after the Olympic race and, second, organizers were launching an attempt for fans to be immersed, through virtual reality and other technological means, in the Olympic experience.

“With Paris 2024,” Estanguet said, “the spectators of the Games finally become actors of the Games.”

This is all of one piece, and that piece can be directly traced to the Buenos Aires Youth Games held last October.

You have to be something of a hard-core Olympic geek to have paid attention to YOG, as it’s known in Olympic jargon. 

But what happened there is profoundly critical to the direction in the coming years of the Olympics under IOC president Thomas Bach. Elected in 2013 to an eight-year term, Bach would seem all but likely to get another four years in 2021; that takes him to 2025, when the rules say he must step down.

BA was the third edition of YOG, after Singapore in 2010 and Nanjing, China in 2014. 

In BA, organizing was overseen by two increasingly important figures in the Olympic movement: Leandro Larrosa, the local committee’s chief executive, since October much in demand as a guy who not only dared to dream big but made it happen with the key support of Gerardo Werthein, the IOC member from Argentina, recognized within the movement as one of Bach’s staunchest and most vocal supporters.

It’s not too much to say that BA effected a real-time Olympic revolution of sorts. 

The big-picture takeaway:

1. Urban parks

2. More female, more inclusive, more innovative

3. This mix: sport, street culture and art

That, ladies and gentlemen, is your Olympics of the near future. Starting with breaking, and more, in Paris. 

See LA28 — the plan boasts (four) urban parks. 

In Buenos Aires:

The opening ceremony was staged downtown, amid the city’s famed obelisk; that crowd was estimated at perhaps 200,000. Throughout, “tickets” were free; the 12-day event drew more than 1 million fans; to get in you simply had to obtain a special wristband; that was it. All around the actual events, in (four) urban parks, were displays inviting kids to try sports, along with food trucks and — just fun.

BA YOG turned a basic principle of the Olympics — of sports as we know it — on its head. 

Instead of staging some sport in a stadium, and mandating that fans pay to crowd into that sort of static space to see it, there was action — breaking, 3x3 basketball, more — set up in one of the four parks, along with dozens of other things to do. 

Concept: you literally could put a blanket down in one such park, on the gentle grassy slope, and watch 3x3. Or, say, sport climbing. 

Halfway through the 12-day run, Christophe Dubi, the Games’ executive director, was asked how things were going. The IOC is not given to glibness. He said, “If you ask where we are on a scale from one to 10 at this point, we are at an 11.”

When things closed, Bach made several comments that anyone interested in the next few years ought to highlight. Among them:

-- “The mega-trend in this world is that more and more people are moving into urban centers. So to reach these people, the sport has to go to city centers.”

— “The park concept, making the Games more urban, has been a massive success in Buenos Aires, bringing sport to the people. Sport nowadays is in competition with so many other options for leisure activities that we cannot only go to the stadiums and make the people [come] to us.”

—“… Imagine such an opening ceremony in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on the Champ de Mars, with hundreds of thousands of people being part of this opening ceremony. Not just watching, but being part of this opening ceremony, could be a real vision …”

— “ … When it comes to new sports … we will not only encourage as we do to use existing facilities or temporary facilities … “

Re-framed in this context, breaking is a no-brainer — along with climbing, surfing and skateboarding. Inviting ordinary people to run the same marathon course as the Olympians, just a little bit later, is a genius idea. If the connectivity and other technological issues can be made to work, the immersion idea holds great promise. 

Now let’s see what might be what when it comes to the 2024 opening ceremony. Stay tuned.