The Summer Olympic Games has run every 4 years since it began in 1896, except for being cancelled once during World War I (1916) and twice during World War II (1940, 1944). Due to the pandemic, Tokyo 2020 will be the first time spectators will be barred from most events at an Olympic Games. But this isn’t the only change at Tokyo 2020.

What’s new this time?

Over recent years the Olympic Games has expanded the eclectic mix of sports on show, with BMX, mountain biking and beach volleyball all being added to the portfolio. And Tokyo 2020 continues that trend.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has added 5 new sports and 34 new events to this summer’s spectacle. The sports included are karate, baseball/softball, sports climbing, surfing and skateboarding.

With a nod to progression, it is a surprise that karate and baseball have not been involved in previous years, when similar national sports such as basketball and judo first featured at Berlin 1936 and Tokyo 1964 respectively.

Sports climbing will consist of three disciplines: lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. The platform that the Olympics provides helps to inspire people to try new things and the inclusion of sports like these are likely to motivate future generations to get involved and participate.

Surfing and skateboarding are social subcultures that have been added to the smorgasbord of classic and established Olympic sports. The recognition of these as ‘Olympic worthy’ shows the IOC is committed to evolving the Games towards an inclusive future, and to engaging a younger and wider audience.   

What other sports could be part of the Olympic Games in future?

Esports, drone racing and virtual reality technology are all growing in popularity and for the Olympics to continue to evolve to meet modern day demands, these are prime candidates for consideration for future Games.

Esports are building traction and were included as a demonstration sport during the 2018 Asian Games. This meant that the medals won would not be counted in the official medal tally, but acted as a trial run for the technology. In 2020, 439m people watched Esports events (up 10% from 2019). New estimates say that by 2023, global numbers will reach 646m viewers.

There is also huge interest with investors in this field of sport technology. Mark Cuban, the owner of NBA’s Dallas Mavericks now owns Mavs Gaming, an Esports team in the NBA 2K League. Basketball legend, Michael Jordan, led a $26m investment into aXiomatic Gaming and Team Liquid – one of the largest competitive gaming franchises in the world. Esports are easily accessible for people of all generations, from a teenage gamer to a global sports star. In the day and age where access to everything, including sport, is immediate, perhaps the future is Olympic Gaming.

Drone racing is an underground phenomenon that informally began around 2014 in Australia. It involves radio-controlled drones equipped with first-person view (FPV) cameras flown around a course as fast as possible (imagine micro–Formula One – but flying through the air at 80 MPH!). The Drone Racing League is a professional league that already operates internationally. Launched in 2016, this tech racing league has partners with Sky Sports, NBC, ProSieben Maxx, Allianz and U.S. Air Force. With rapidly increasing attention surrounding it, drone racing could be included in an Olympic Games very soon.

What other innovations are there at this year’s Olympics?

With an expected 21.6% annual growth rate from 2020 to 2027 and a market size of $10.32 billion in 2019, virtual reality (VR) is a force to be considered. Several events at Tokyo 2020 will be watchable through VR including boxing, track and field and beach volleyball. Digital twinning technology will allow athletes and spectators to explore the Olympic stadiums through 5G networks as well as 3D tracking systems to analyse the biomechanics of athletes through sophisticated algorithms.

But could the use of technology go further? VR is being used by major sports leagues across North America in innovative ways. NFL teams and college programmes are incorporating VR into their training by letting players practice without having to be on the training pitch. The NBA is also using VR in their attempts to grow the league’s global audience by enhancing broadcasts and improving fan experiences. With this technology there’s the potential for fans to be able to recreate their favourite match moments in a 360° view from various cinematic camera angles. The NBA and NFL have also both stated they will use VR to improve rule keeping by training officials through simulators and other performance and technology developments. Plenty there for the IOC to be thinking about for future Games. 

The Tokyo Olympics gets underway today and the Paralympics follow in late August. At MTM Sport we are excited to see the new sports and integration of technological innovations in action. Looking further ahead we will also be keeping a keen eye on the tech and sports that make their way into Paris 2024 and beyond. Let the Games begin!