Action sports researchers lend skills to Olympics

Action sports such as parkour have the International Olympic Committee interested. Pictured training is Hamilton parkour ...
Bruce Mercer

Action sports such as parkour have the International Olympic Committee interested. Pictured training is Hamilton parkour exponent Cliff Tarrant.

Action sports and the Olympics don't necessarily go together but two Waikato-based researchers are trying to bridge the gap.

University of Waikato academics Dr Holly Thorpe and Associate Professor Belinda Wheaton want to help the event keep its appeal for young people using to one of seven grants from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The views of people who are into action sports such as skateboarding, kite-surfing and parkour will be the basis of their work.

The University of Waikato's Dr Holly Thorpe.
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The University of Waikato's Dr Holly Thorpe.

"[The IOC] recognise that the way young people are participating in and consuming sport is changing. And if they want to stay relevant to younger audiences - which they do - they need to recognise those changes," Thorpe said.

That was shown in the rising popularity of events such as the X games, which focuses on extreme sports and is organised by American broadcaster ESPN.

"The IOC was looking at the success of the X Games and saying 'Ooh, young people are switching to the X Games and they're switching off the Olympics. What do we need to do so that we don't get old and boring?'."

University of Waikato associate professor Belinda Wheaton.
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University of Waikato associate professor Belinda Wheaton.

Sports such as snowboarding and BMX had since been included but it wasn't always simple, Thorpe said.

Many prided themselves on being outside the traditional framework and didn't want to fit in the Olympic box.

One example was when snowboarding was going to be introduced in 1998 - some of the world's best snowboarders saw it as selling out and boycotted the event.

"They wanted to be respected for their own sporting culture."

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But attitudes had since changed, she said.

In that sense, Thorpe said she and Wheaton were like "cultural intermediaries" who could help the IOC understand the psyche of different sports.

The researchers are both part of the community themselves - Thorpe was a semi-professional snowboarder and Wheaton was a professional windsurfer.

They knew IOC grants were competitive but put their bid in anyway, and were pleasantly surprised to find out they'd been selected.

"Symbolically it is pretty significant," Thorpe said.

"I think we're the only university in New Zealand to ever have a relationship with the IOC like this."

But there's also a lot of work to do before they report back to the committee mid-2016.

The project will include an online survey covering whether young action sports participants watch the Olympics or not, why, and what events they tune into if they do.

The survey will be in six languages and across five continents, and they will also interview key figures in the action sport worlds.

 - Stuff

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