Surf bums or Olympians? Skateboarding world divided by prospect of going to Games

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The Independent Online

Five decades after it was invented on the back of the Californian surf craze, devotees of skateboarding still cannot agree whether it is sport or art.

That debate may be about to be finally settled amid high-level moves to include skateboarding in the Olympics, possibly in time for the London Games in 2012.

For years skateboarding has been vying with sports such as rugby, golf, karate and squash for inclusion in the Games roster, which would bring a stratospheric rise in the sport's finances and profile.

Senior figures in the International Olympic Committee, mindful of the need to bolster its youth appeal, have thrown their weight behind moves to introduce the half-pipe to the world's biggest sports event and the IOC's president, Jacques Rogge, has become involved.

Pivotal to this has been the successful inauguration of snowboarding at this year's Winter Olympics in Turin. While preserving traditional niche events such as modern pentathlon, the IOC is keen not to lose touch with the "Google generation", a concern mirrored by the fact that BMX biking will make its debut at the Beijing Games in 2008.

"One of the aims of the Olympic movement, and one of the key aims of its charter, is to include youth in sport," said a senior figure in the Olympic movement, who is close to the talks. "With more and more children devoting their spare time to computers and the internet this challenge is as big as ever."

Also imperative to the IOC is the need to preserve its television audience - the main networks essentially bankroll the movement - and there are signs that the Olympic blue-riband event of track and field is waning in popularity in the US. While the appetite for the Olympics remains healthy there, viewing figures for the world athletics championships in Helsinki were poor.

While numerous sports are banging on the IOC's door for Olympic status, there is some ambivalence in the world of skateboarding, which has an estimated 13 million devotees worldwide and around 600,000 in the UK. Kevin Parrott, secretary of the UK Skateboarding Association, said Olympic status would bring much-needed improvements to the country's 600 skate parks. But he echoes concerns that skateboarding might sell its soul if the IOC insisted on a new era of conformity, with Olympic competitors forced to wear smart uniforms with numbers on their backs and drop their "cool" kit emblazoned with sponsors' logos.

"What's attractive about skateboarding is that it has got a rebellious appeal to it. I don't think it should be cleaned up," said Mr Parrott, who teaches skateboarding at schools in the London Borough of Islington. "If you tell kids that they should get involved then, in my experience, it has exactly the opposite effect."

The version of skateboarding most likely to become an Olympic event is "vert skating", which has its origins in skaters using disused swimming pools. Skaters perform tricks in a 13ft-high half-pipe and are awarded points out of 100 for tricks and style.

Jockeying for inclusion in the London Olympics has been as frantic as it is pointless for the vast majority. There have been suggestions that darts and the "Twenty20" short form of cricket could make it on to the programme. Although the bar has already gone down on new sports for 2012, skateboarding has a realistic chance of exploiting a loophole offered by the IOC's charter. Talks have centred around the possibility of skateboarding as a "wheel-based sport" being adopted by the international cycling federation (UCI). Such a move was mooted at a meeting of the Swiss-based UCI's board with Mr Rogge last July. Rollerskating tried this but its attempt failed due to lack of mass appeal.

A spokesman for the UCI said: "There have been talks between the UCI and the IOC to address the issue of getting skateboarding into the Games. We expect to be able to give an update soon."

A spokeswoman for Locog, the organising committee of the 2012 Games, said: "Admitting new sports or disciplines is a matter for the IOC. We have had no discussions yet about skateboarding."

Sports left out

* Rugby

Was considered favourite to be revived as an Olympic sport for London 2012 in a secret ballot of IOC members last year, not least because its claim was thought to be supported by the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, a former player. The International Rugby Board said the IOC had missed a "golden opportunity" as the outcome arrested the game's development in Africa and the Pacific region.

* Golf

Its chances of making a Games debut foundered last year in a vote which saw the number of Olympic sports cut by two - baseball and softball - to 26. It was considered too elitist. Its inclusion would have raised the prospect of a British team playing at St Andrews or Wentworth and Royal St George's in Kent.

* Darts

Boosted by its new national academy for teenagers in Hull, the British Darts Organisation, staked its claim for a place in the London Olympics. Darts was recognised as a sport by the government body, UK Sport, three years ago. However there is as much chance of it becoming part of the 2012 Games as seeing the ample arrows legend Andy Fordham eating a salad.