ASDP and the Olympic Games

oct 2017 action sports, development, multi-sited

We recently asked the ASDP community to share their thoughts on the potential of ASDP and the Olympic Games, particularly given the recent inclusion of skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing and freestyle BMX into Tokyo 2020, and the transition of the UNOSDP to the IOC. Here is what two of our members had to say.

As most in the ASDP community will be very aware, there have been some major changes in the Olympic Games with surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and BMX freestyle added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games programme. This will hopefully create new opportunities for action sport athletes from developing countries to participate on the global stage. In fact, there are already groups and organisations working to ensure the opportunities and resources are available for action sport athletes from developing nations to attend the Games. See, for example, this story  about surfers in Cuba who are making their case to compete in the 2020 Olympics, or this group who are adopting a longterm view and trying to raise funds to develop future surfers in Sierra Leone.

A major project by Associate Professors Belinda Wheaton and Holly Thorpe (commissioned by the IOC) focused on the processes of Olympic inclusion for these sports, and revealed important implications for action sports in developing nations and growing the diversity of action sports. If you're interested in this report, you can access it here.

Furthermore, the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) has recently been closed with an important transition over to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

What does all of this mean for our ASDP community? Will the inclusion of more action sports into the Olympic Games, and the transition from UNOSDP to the IOC have implications for existing ASDP organisations or for new groups and projects to emerge? 

Action Sports for Development and the Olympic Games

A few months ago we asked our ASDP community to comment on what they believe these changes might (should) signal for the ASDP community. In this post we share the opinions of two members of our community: Betty Esperanza (Founder of Skateboards for Hope) and Michael Brooke (Founder of Longboarding for Peace). We really hope others will further contribute to this important and timely conversation by either adding their comments under this article, or emailing us at with your opinions.

First, let's introduce Betty and Michael:

Betty Esperanza is the Founder of Skateboards For Hope, an organisation currently working in Canada, Cuba, and Uganda. The organisation started in Cuba in 2008, and Betty has been donating and growing the skateboarding scene ever since. In Canada, the organisation donates and develops skateboard programs for First Nations youth. In fact, the First Mohawk ever to compete in World Cup Skateboarding was from Kanesatake, Mohawk Territory, Quebec. In Gulu, Uganda, Skateboards for Hope have helped the number grow from one to 100 in less than 3 years. You can hear more about Skateboards for Hope and the work of Betty in her TedX talk titled 'Can skateboards give hope and break the cycle of poverty?'

Michael Brooke is Founder of Longboarding for Peace and Publisher of Concrete Wave. We have profiled the work of Michael already on this site, so you can read more about his work using longboarding for peace in Palestine and elsewhere here.


Ok, so now to their thoughts and opinions on this important, timely and somewhat controversial topic:

1) More action sports (e.g., surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing) are being included into the Olympic programme. What do you think/hope this might mean for future investment and support of ASDP initiatives?

Betty: I think that collaboration will be a win-win in the long run. It's going to be more sustainable and will allow for more projects to pursue. Combining efforts leads to strengthening the mission. I believe in partnerships that share common goals.

Michael:  I can only hope that the spotlight will generate interest and this in turn will create more ASDP initiatives. But in truth this is tricky thing to speculate on. Back in 1964 the editor of SkateBoarder, John Severson kicked off the first issue with an aim of it becoming an Olympic Sport ("Today’s skateboarders are founders in this sport, they are pioneers, they are the first. There is no history in skateboarding—it’s being made now—by you.” I then recall ads in SkateBoarder Magazine back in the late 70’s which talked about having skateboarding in the Olympics. Fifty six years later, the vision of skateboarding becoming part of the Olympics is here. Time will tell if it has any impact on issues of peace and creating a better world. In my mind, the Olympics grapple with two distinct yet highly competing issues. One is the need for nations to participate and be a part of the “Olympic Spirit.”  Pierre de Coubertin's statement that "The important thing is not to win, but to take part.” This could be an anthem for skateboarders world wide. The ride is the reward. But there is a much bigger competing side to this. There is huge money in the Olympics and the desire for countries, athletes and major corporations to win is paramount. There are billions on the line. We all know that athletes in the Olympics are under a huge amount of pressure to win. Sometimes they win under dubious circumstances. I can understand weight lifters and sprinters doing everything in their power to gain just a fraction more edge over their competitors. Somehow this drive to win at all costs isn’t really a key part of skateboarding. Don’t get me wrong, I know that skateboarding wrestles with the competitive aspect of things – but the DNA of skateboarding is different to that gymnastics or soccer. The money will flow into countries that never really considered skateboarding. Now that there is an Olympic opportunity, I sense that there will be lots of skateparks built… but let’s hope that they also build them with pumptracks. Not everyone that skateboards dreams of "Olympic Gold” and attaining the highest ollie.

2) What do you hope the recent transition from UNOSDP to the IOC might mean for the ASDP community, and/or organizations such as your own?

Betty: I believe that it will provide more resources and opportunities to communities and organizations who will benefit from the combined knowledge, experience and resources to carry out projects. It is exciting to be part of this community knowing we have a voice.

Michael: Let’s focus on peace through sport. Let’s acknowledge that youth will benefit from learning about balance and flow and the joy that action sports present. So many countries would benefit from the peace that skateboarding gives its riders. Maybe Iran, North Korea, Syria, Russia and the USA can just work things out in the skatepark or on a slalom course? Then they can go back to the athletes village and chill. 

3) Do you have any concerns about what this transition might mean for the Sport for Development and Peace sector, and ASDP more specifically?

Betty: The concerns I have are subjective. Will there be more bureaucracy that will slow down development? I don't know if the processes in place are reasonable and practical. Will the mission be diluted and affect the mission? It would be reassuring if ASDP and IOC would share  the goals and processes.

Michael: I look at this as the cup being half full. I am intrigued by what the effect will be when you put skateboarding on the map in a country like Zaire or Cameroon. Anything that puts a spotlight on skateboarding is welcomed. But let’s leverage this opportunity to tell the world what is truly at the heart and soul of skateboarding and get youth (and their parents!) excited about the freedom skateboarding can give you. Yes, it can get knee deep in sugar water and beef jerky sponsors, but skateboarding is also a highly soulful experience that has a tremendous number of free spirits in its ranks. Built into skateboarding’s DNA are things like questioning authority and non-conformist attitude. This leads to all kinds of exciting and interesting things happening. [But] sometimes governments don’t exactly enjoy the by-products of skateboarding.

4) What do you think the ASDP community needs to do to get more support and recognition from the IOC towards the power and potential of action sports for development and peace building?

Betty: For one thing, outline a plan of action that clearly identifies resources and responsibilities. Identify key players strengths and influence. Rally communities and organizations to be the voice with power. Get commitments from partners to actively lobby for ASDP. Demonstrate influence and change whether it be economic or social.

Michael: Simple. Take two weeks worth of IOC travel, hotel and meal budgets and funnel them into ASDP. That money alone would be enough to start a huge number of initiatives. Or give that money to Skateistan or any of the dozens of really cool non profits that are part of the ASDP community. In fact, wouldn’t it be great if some of the marketing money Nike or Adidas was going to spend on the Olympics could be just given to these amazing organizations. They’d get way more publicity AND everyone would benefit. Note: Longboarding for Peace is NOT a charity or non profit, so anyone from Nike or Adidas reading this can just write a check to... [joking]

5) If you could speak to those leading this transition, what would you say about the power of ASDP, the sport that you work with in particular, and/or the work your organization is doing?

Betty: ASDP is essential to the development of sport and peace and has proven economic and social development change. As the Founder of Skateboards For Hope, skateboarding has seen an increase in developing countries without access to skateboarding since most underdeveloped countries do not have access to manufacturing or distribution.

Right now for example, the past 12 years I have been donating recycled skateboards to children in Cuba. The sport has developed so quickly and with no resources.  Proof that there is a necessity to fulfill our mission to share this sport without constraints. A country like Cuba needs support from ASDP to optimize this potential. Skateboards For Hope not only supplies skateboards but a message of hope and peace that unites the world. A playing field without borders.  Our story is unique as it's run by one woman living in Montreal, CANADA, Betty Esperanza who has a vision to spread the joy of skateboarding which in turn develops leadership, collaboration and trust among youth. A world of youth empowered by a piece of wood, metal, rubber and sweat.

Michael: It’s all about the butterclip effect. If you’ve never heard of this effect, it’s simple and it really speaks to the power of small things having enormous consequences. You take the power of the butterfly effect (the idea that a small butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away) and COMBINE it with the red paper clip affect. The red paper clip affect is based on a guy named Kyle MacDonald who traded a red paper clip for a house. All it took was some creativity and in 14 trades, he took something of relatively no value (less than a penny) and parlayed it into a house. It’s how I started Concrete Wave and it’s how I helped to get a skatepark in Ahousaht, British Columbia built for the cost of a sandwich and a beer. By a series of events, my idea spread and eventually, opportunity, luck and preparation all conspired to get a park built on a remote island. What this example signals is that we don’t need a whack load of money. We just need to harness the passion that action sports enthusiasts have and help create a better world. And isn’t fostering peace part of the Olympic ideal? It’s not a question of if the skateboarding is ready for the Olympics. The real question is are the Olympics ready for skateboarding?! Let’s roll!




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