The ISA and WSL reach agreement on the Tokyo Olympics
Overnight, the International Surfing Association (ISA) announced an agreement with the World Surf League (WSL) for qualifications to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
For those unaware, the ISA is the world governing authority for surfing. It’s crowned a world champion every year since 1964, yet from 1976 onwards - when professional surfing began - the ISA has assumed secondary status.
Despite this, the ISA has always had an ace up its sleeve: it’s recognised by the IOC as surfing’s sanctioning body. Since 1982, the ISA has doggedly pursued their Olympic dream, and in 2015 it was realised when surfing was accepted into the 2020 Tokyo games.
ISA President Fernando Aguerre
So the situation is this: the WSL has access to the best surfers in the world, but the ISA has access to the biggest competition in the world.
How to make this damn thing work?
Well, the aforementioned qualifying principles have been nutted out and the two camps have come up with an equitable solution.
There’ll be 40 surfers at the Tokyo Olympics and 20 surfers will qualify via the ISA and 18 via the WSL’s Championship Tour. That leaves 2 slots for the host nation Japan to fill as they please. So it’s almost split down the middle between ISA and WSL.
The way it’s divvied up provides plenty to think about. For starters there are the practical matters, like how will the 18 CT surfers be chosen?
But then there are also questions that strike at the heart of the Olympic ideal. No-one would argue against the Championship Tour having the world’s best competitive surfers, and yet more than half the Olympic competitors won't be CT-grade surfers?
And there’s also some legacy marketing to consider...
It’s only via the inclusion of those CT surfers that Olympic surfing will have any credibility, yet the CT tagline is ‘It takes a tour to make a title’. Are you seeing the paradox here? CT surfers give the Olympic title integrity, while CT marketing makes a joke of it.
...but not an Olympic title
Of course it’ll be overlooked by all involved, particularly the WSL who want to hitch a ride on the Olympic bandwagon. Exposure to the global market being the main game here; the WSL will be looking to parlay the mass audience towards their own ends. Expect many press releases about “growing the sport”.
On the other side of the ledger is the ISA who’ve spent 35 years getting surfing into the five ring circus. Now they’ve succeeded they’ll wanna get their pound of flesh, and it’ll arrive via renewed interest in the 2018 and 2019 ISA Games - the qualifying games to the 2020 Olympics. Expect more QS surfers to make themselves available.
It’s entirely possible that a non-CT surfers will win the Tokyo Olympics - it’s a one-off competition after all and luck is a factor. Just ask Steven Bradbury.
In fact, after all the political wrangling that’ll precede the Olympics, not to mention the high-performance coaching and earnest patriotic posturing, a little-known surfer ‘doing a Bradbury’ might be the very best outcome for all of us.