From local boardriders comps to state titles and Olympic dreams, the amateur ranks are suffering.
Throughout Australia, the news that the WSL has suspended and/or cancelled the Championship Tour events up until May has been seen either as a major disappointment by pro surfing fans or a welcome relief by anti-competition free surfers. Meanwhile frothing competitors have invaded the home breaks of many – which either means a free surf show you can enjoy or an annoying by-product of no contests, depending on which way you look at it.
The headlines in Australia have been dominated by a professional sporting apocalypse with many sporting codes suspending planned competitions, what isn’t so widely reported is that amateur sport is also suffering from COVID-19. Amateur surfing is now on the chopping block as all the state branches of Surfing Australia have unanimously shut down all their planned events through til the end of April, including all their coaching clinics.
Many boardriders clubs across Australia have adopted the trend and are cancelling their club rounds until further notice. Clubs are part of the fabric of Australian surfing and play an important role in binding communities and fuelling performance from the ground up. The Big C is a major hit to club surfers around the country.
The largest amateur surfing competition of all, planned for July this year, is also looking doubtful with news sources reporting that Australia’s former chef de mission at the London Olympics, Nick Green, has cast major doubt on whether the Tokyo Games can proceed in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic. Similarly, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes Commission recently broke ranks to brand the IOC’s confident stance on Japan as “insensitive” and “irresponsible".
The Olympics have only been cancelled outright three times in history – 1916, 1940 and 1944 – on each occasion, it was due to world wars. The IOC confirmed its resolve to hold the Olympics from July 24 as scheduled following a telephone hook-up with national Olympic committees from around the world on Wednesday night, having already had a conference call with the heads of international sporting federations on Tuesday night.
While Australian athletes continue to train for Tokyo, their preparations have been thrown out by the global shutdown of competition and the interruption to the qualification process. National sports chiefs are working feverishly with international federations to try and re-draw qualification rules, with selection for many athletes still up in the air despite Australia having secured 320 quota spots out of a predicted team of 480 in Japan. That’s not the case for the Australian 2020 Olympic surfing team, which was decided by the 2019 WSL Championship Tour rankings. Owen Wright, Julian Wilson, Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons will be representing Australia if the Olympics goes ahead.
For many other nations, it’s a different story with the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games deciding the final surfers to qualify. The event is scheduled to run in El Salvador on May 9th to 17th and is still going ahead according to an ISA official I contacted. The prospect of the Olympics being cancelled has fans, sponsors, investors and athletes nervous, and the mixed messages that have emerged from Japan in recent days are further confusing the issue. However, after an Olympic organising official speculated the games could be postponed for one to two years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was adamant the Olympics would go ahead as planned this year.