— Published 17 May 2023

“In urban sports, we all move forward together”

The event has become unmissable. Since its creation in 1997, the International Festival of Extreme Sports (FISE) brings together every year in Montpellier the world’s elite and fans of urban disciplines.

At the initiative of its organizer, the Hurricane Group – a member of GIE France Sport Expertise – the event is now accompanied by a forum, the Urban Sports Summit. The 2023 edition begins this Wednesday, May 17 in Montpellier, in parallel with the FISE (May 17 to 21). Two IOC envoys are announced among the speakers, Kit McConnell, the director of sports, and Leandro Larrosa, his counterpart of digital engagement and marketing.

Two years after the Tokyo 2020 Games, where skateboarding, 3×3 basketball and rock climbing made their way into the Olympic program, how are urban sports doing? Hervé André-Benoît, CEO of Hurricane Group and founder of FISE, answered FrancsJeux’s questions.

FrancsJeux: How is the urban sports world doing, almost two years after the Tokyo 2020 Games and less than 500 days before the Paris 2024 Games?

Hervé André-Benoît: Since their appearance in the 70s, urban sports have not stopped progressing. Originally, they were presented as unorganized activities, but they have federated, particularly around events. The creation of events, such as FISE, was the driving force behind their development. Infrastructures have followed. They are still often insufficient to meet the demand, but local authorities have invested in the creation of spaces dedicated to urban sports. In France, they are full all the time. The number of people practicing urban sports is increasing every year, just about everywhere in the world. The practice often remains free, away from the federations. As for the economic market, it has never been so dynamic. The health crisis has led to an explosion in equipment sales. Today, many brands communicate on these disciplines, even if they do not belong to the urban sports universe.

Has the market reached maturity?

No, not yet. It continues to develop year after year, without slowing down. For the past 10 or 15 years, the practice of urban sports has gone beyond the framework of sport alone. It is a reflection of a lifestyle. When the market has reached maturity, urban sports will not be far from competing with soccer.

What is the geopolitics of urban sports today?

The United States have long been the undisputed market leaders. They have been the driving force behind the phenomenon since the 1970s and have largely contributed to the media coverage, notably through the X-Games. Today, Europe has made up for a large part of its delay. It follows very closely, with riders of all ages, between 4 and 40/45 years old. European riders are getting stronger and stronger. For a few years now, we have seen an enormous appetite from the Asian continent. In China, in particular, the potential of riders is considerable. The Chinese BMX team has a great potential for Olympic medals. Asia is overtaking Europe in terms of infrastructure. This will inevitably have an impact on the results. Africa is still lagging behind. The young people are very demanding, but the equipment does not follow. The 2026 Youth Games in Senegal can serve as a trigger.

What was the impact of the Tokyo 2020 Games, where several urban sports made their debut in the program, including skateboarding and 3×3 basketball?

The participation was of a very high level, in line with expectations, and the infrastructure was of high quality. However, the lack of public participation reduced the impact of the event. Without the osmosis between the athletes and the spectators, which is very important in these disciplines, the Tokyo 2020 Games lacked strength and energy. We expected an explosion, it did not happen. But the Games had a strong impact in Tokyo and in Japan, where the market grew strongly.

Is there a gap between Olympic urban sports and others?

Getting into the Games is a recognition. The IOC does not only choose the sports of today, but also those of tomorrow. The Olympic label also ensures greater media coverage, and therefore greater resources. But in the world of urban sports, we all move forward together. Rollerblading was the leader for a long time, then it declined. Today, it is carried by disciplines that are growing more strongly. The competition is not between urban sports, where there are many common denominators, but between urban sports and other sports, such as tennis or soccer.

Could the Paris 2024 Games be a turning point?

A gas pedal, certainly, but not a turning point, because it would mean a change of direction. The impact of the Paris 2024 Games promises to be enormous. They will give rise to desires and vocations. There will be more practitioners, and with them the media and sponsors. Despite their popularity, urban sports and riders need more exposure. The Paris 2024 Games can give them that. The OCOG is going to offer them a showcase, the Place de la Concorde (breaking, 3×3 basketball, skateboard and BMX freestyle). The organizers have a real desire to do their best for these new disciplines. As for the IOC, it announced last year the launch of a series of Olympic qualifying events in climbing, breaking, BMX freestyle and skateboarding, in the form of four-day festivals. This is a sign. Not all sports have this privilege.