For nearly a year and a half, we’ve known that surfing will officially be an Olympic event at the Summer Games in Tokyo. The details, however, have been fuzzy. News of Olympic coaching staff (Pete Townend for the Chinese and Bede Durbidge for the Ozzies, for example) has come in in dribs and drabs. But what’s remained a giant question mark all this time is who will be competing and how the qualification process will work.
According to a Wednesday joint press release from the International Surfing Association and the World Surf League, though, both organizations have come to an agreement they’ll proffer up to the International Olympic Committee for approval.
In short, there will be 40 surfers competing in the Olympics, and 18 of those slots (10 men and eight women) will be reserved for WSL Championship Tour surfers. Let’s read more from the release:
“The International Surfing Association (ISA) today announced an agreement with the World Surf League (WSL) on the qualification principles for surfing in the Olympics Games in Tokyo 2020, ensuring the participation of the world’s best surfers from the WSL Championship Tour (CT) as well as promoting universal opportunities for surfers around the world.
“In principle, the agreement will see up to 18 of the 40 places at the Games reserved for WSL Championship Tour (CT) surfers (10 men and eight women), with the remaining 22 places determined at the 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games, the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, and a single slot (each for men and women) for the host nation (Japan).
“With the support of the WSL, the ISA eligibility rules for Olympic participation will require surfers to make themselves available for their national teams to compete in the ISA World Surfing Games in 2019 and 2020 and, if selected by their National Federation, to participate.
“The final decision on the complete process is subject to the approval of the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at its meeting in February 2018.”
In addition to the qualification process, one of the more interesting revelations from the release is that for the first time since the ISA World Surfing Games’ inception, CT surfers will compete in the 2019 and 2020 in the event, which is a major win for the ISA.
Said ISA President, Fernando Aguerre, “We are happy to reach this historic agreement with the WSL on the participation of their top stars in the Olympic Games and ISA World Surfing Games. The support, endorsement and collaboration of the WSL and its top professional surfers have always been an important part of our Olympic pathway to Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
“This agreement not only underlines our commitment to have the world’s best athletes competing for gold in Surfing’s debut in Tokyo, but also to ensure that the competitions reflect the open access and universality of our sport around the world, in all five continents.
“We are also very pleased to have the WSL’s full support of and commitment to the ISA World Surfing Games between now and 2020. The participation of the top professionals in their national teams will elevate the surfing to new heights, creating additional excitement and drama in the lead-up to the Olympic Games.”
Ace Buchan and Sage Erickson also weighed in on the decision:
“Surfing has the ability to reinvigorate the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020,” said Ace. “The athletes are excited to showcase their skills on the world’s biggest sporting platform and the opportunity for surfing to be recognized as a truly professional sport.”
“It’s great that the WSL and the ISA have agreed on a qualification path for the Olympics in 2020,” said Sage. “It’s a major opportunity for the sport and we need to make the most of it. Showcasing the sport with the world’s best surfers, in the best waves possible, is something we’re all in agreement on.”
So many questions remain, e.g. how many slots will be allotted to each country? But first things first, the IOC will need to approve this qualification mechanism come February. Or else, send the ISA and WSL back to the drawing board.