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40 surfers will represent 10 different countries in the 2020 Games in Tokyo.


The Inertia

On Friday, the International Olympic Committee announced its approval of the qualification system for surfing’s Olympic debut at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Last December the World Surf League and International Surfing Association arrived at an historic agreement regarding qualification.

At that time, both the WSL and ISA issued press releases explaining the high points of the system – namely, 18 of the 40 slots would be reserved for CT surfers (10 men and 8 women). The ISA then took to submitting the qualification scheme to the IOC.

Now, following the IOC’s official approval on Friday, the ISA issued a press release highlighting the qualification system in greater detail:

The key elements of the qualification system are as follows:
-20 men, 20 women.
-Maximum of 2 surfers per gender per National Olympic Committee (NOC).
-Qualification spots will be earned on an individual basis, by name.
-In accordance with IOC guidelines, the qualification events have been determined in hierarchical order of qualification, as further explained below; If two surfers of a gender have qualified through the first hierarchical order, that NOC will not be able to qualify more surfers of that gender through qualifying events lower in hierarchical order.
-All surfers selected by their respective National Federations for their national teams must participate in 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games in order to be eligible for Olympic qualification. The final details of the eligibility requirements are still under review by the ISA and the IOC.

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The hierarchical order of qualification will be as follows:

1. 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour: First 10 eligible men and first 8 eligible women.
2. 2020 ISA World Surfing Games: First 4 eligible men and first 6 eligible women.
3. 2019 ISA World Surfing Games: 4 men and 4 women selected based on their continent. Top finishing eligible surfer of each gender from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
4. 2019 Pan American Games: First eligible man and first eligible woman in the surfing competitions.
5. Host nation slot: One man and one woman slot will be guaranteed for the host nation of Japan, unless already filled through the above hierarchies. Should athletes from Japan qualify regularly, their slots will be reallocated to the highest ranked eligible surfers from the 2020 World Surfing Games.

A few quick thoughts. First and foremost, the prospect that CT surfers who qualify for their respective National Federations, “must participate in 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games in order to be eligible for Olympic Qualification,” is a huge win for the ISA. In the past, few CT athletes have participated in the ISA World Surfing Games, and now, any CTer hoping to qualify must participate in both, which has enormous benefit for the ISA raising the profile of their events.

Second, according to this scheme, only four surfers (two men, two women) will represent each country. That means a minimum of 10 countries will be represented – while only eight (Australia, the US, Brazil, Portugal, France, Japan, Italy, and South Africa) are currently represented on the 2018 CT.

Third and finally, it’s interesting that Japan has a guaranteed slot for a man and woman each. Bottom line, Kanoa Igarashi may be the smartest Olympic hopeful on tour.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated the ISA and WSL jointly submitted the planned qualification system back in December. While the WSL was involved in developing the system, the ISA (as the sport’s international federation) was responsible for the formal submission process.