“Skate is a culture built around a sporting activity—not just sports for sports sake.”
In what has been called the most comprehensive evolution of the Olympic programme in modern history—beginning in 2020, skateboarding and sports climbing events will join the international Olympic competition.
The addition of these sports is expected to break the mold of traditional Olympic competition by being staged in temporary venues installed in urban settings. The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) marks a historic step toward bringing the Games to young people and reflects the trend of the urbanization of sports.
The decision was welcomed news for one of skateboarding’s fiercest advocates, Neftalie Williams, Global Skateboarding Scholar and Professor of Sports Diplomacy at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. Williams, a photojournalist, writer and scholar is a graduate of the USC’s Master of Public Diplomacy program. His area of expertise is sports diplomacy with an emphasis in skateboarding and cultural diplomacy in the United States, the European Union, Latin America and Southern Africa.
In April 2015, the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society launched the first university program to develop initiatives examining skateboarding as a tool for cultural and sport diplomacy. Skateboarding is a multibillion dollar industry with historic origins in the Los Angeles area. The skateboarding phenomenon was described by the school’s director as, “A fascinating mix of athleticism, attitude and culture, skate has captured the imagination of the millennial generation worldwide across race, class and gender and political lines.”
In a recent interview with the Black Voice News (BVN), Williams discussed his passion for the sport; his advocacy for its inclusion in the Olympics and the power of the sport as a valuable and viable vehicle for the positive globalization of young people. The IOC decision was confirmation of the organization’s belief in Williams’ assessment that it was time for the IOC to meet young people where they are. When the Olympic committee announced its decision, IOC President Thomas Bach said, “We want to take sport to the youth. With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them.”
Similar sentiments were shared by Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori, host of the next summer Olympics. “The inclusion of the package of new sports will afford young athletes the chance of a lifetime to realize their dreams of competing in the Olympic Games – the world’s greatest sporting stage – and inspire them to achieve their best, both in sport and in life.”
When speaking about his passion for the sport Williams told BVN, “You are either a skater or you are not.” He continued, I’ve been skating for a long time and I have been involved in the culture for a long time.” According to Williams, skating is a sport that, “fits very well in an urban environment. It affords the kind of interaction with athletes not found in other sports. It’s about culture and an activity surrounding culture,” he explained. “Competitions are merely a way of getting together for comradery. It is not about whose best—But, about who is best that day.”
In reflecting on the probable impact skateboarding will have on future Olympic games, Williams added, “It is good for us to educate people about skateboarding culture—it is important to have agency within the Olympics.” He sees skateboarding as an organic sport that is open to everyone. “You just get a skateboard and figure it out,” he said. “It’s built into its DNA.” Williams is confident the Olympics will put skateboarding into a bigger space, the kind of space where many countries that cannot succeed in other sports can compete. Skateboarding in the Olympics, according to Williams, is an awareness and recognition for skaters that skateboarding is not a sub culture, “Its their own culture.”
Skateboarding has actually impacted culture for a long time. The real question, according to Williams is—how do you push it further? “How do we encourage more women to get involved. How do we create partnerships on the local and global level?” Williams sees skateboarding and its ability to influence society as an entire ecosystem. Not only does it engage youth at their level, it is a source of expanded diversity that includes both male and female, all races, all socio economic classes and crosses international boundaries in such a way—it becomes an organic, international common denominator in an ever-shrinking world.
As an accomplished skateboarder whose research is focused on using skateboarding as a tool for cultural diplomacy, Williams has worked with Joe Maloof, founder of the Maloof Money Cup, a competition for both professional and amateur skateboarders who has donated skate parks to New York City, Washington D.C., and Kimberly, South Africa.
Not only does Williams teach the breakthrough course at USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, ‘Skateboarding and Action Sports in Business, Media and Culture’. He also serves as a public diplomacy consultant to Sao Paulo Brazil’s Skate Nation. He brings a unique perspective to the nuances of sports diplomacy in a global context. This was clearly evidenced in his envoy project in the Netherlands where he engaged refugee youth through the universality of skateboarding. “Through skateboarding kids learn to create a community,” Williams stressed. “They are reimaging the world.”
Skateboarding, surfing, sports climbing, karate and baseball/softball will all be added to the 2020 Olympic Programme. According to the IOC, the new sports package will not only facilitate gender equality (each sport will feature an equal number of male and female teams), it also placed added emphasis on urban sports. The IOC’s decision adds 18 events and 474 athletes to the next Olympic Games. The addition of these sports is viewed by the IOC as an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events.