ABU DHABI // Skateboarding's rise to become an accepted worldwide sport will conclude with a place in a future Olympic Games, according to its most famous participant. Tony Hawk, one of 46 Laureus Academy members who will decide on the winners of tomorrow night's Laureus Sports Awards, insisted the International Olympic Committee could no longer ignore the growing international profile of extreme sports.
"At this point, I think the Olympics needs skateboarding much more than skateboarding needs the Olympics," he said. "The Summer Games desperately need that cool factor, something which snowboarding has added to the Winter Olympics. The summer Games just don't have that." Skateboarding's transition to the global mainstream has been rapid. The sport is widely practised across North and South America, Europe and Australia, and Hawk believes inclusion in the Olympics would aid its growth into developing countries.
"That would be huge for the global recognition of skating and would help it grow in popularity in other areas," he said. "There is a lot of red tape involved before the International Olympic Committee will recognise an organisation. All a sport's ducks need to be in a row before it can be considered as a potential event. "You have to be established in so many countries and skateboarding's never had to worry about that before. But people are getting prepared because they see this sort of opportunity coming."
That chance, according to Hawk, could come as soon as the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Skateboarding has a cult following in Brazil thanks to the success of acclaimed skaters such as Bob Burnquist and Andre Genovesi. "There is a movement to include skateboarding in the Olympics, possibly even in Rio," said Hawk. The 41-year-old American has done more than anyone to evolve the international standing of skateboarding - his career has spanned the sport's transition from underground phenomenon to mainstream commercial acceptance.
"I've been able to capitalise on a lot of coincidences as skating has grown," he said. "I've been doing this most of my life and I just happened to be in it at the right time, the stage when skateboarding went from being unpopular to cool." Hawk's skating adolescence may have been spent tricking his way round empty swimming pools in California, but the latter portion of his career saw him dominating the medals at the annual X Games - extreme sports' version of the Olympics.
From the moment 198,000 people flocked to Rhode Island for the first X Games in 1995, Hawk has been the extreme sports' movement's biggest star. More than 250,000 people saw him land the 900 - two-and-half spins - at the 1999 X Games. Eleven years later, Hawk's priority remains spreading the virtues of the sport that has put him on countless magazine covers and TV shows, and even his own video game.
"In certain areas, especially in Europe, the US, Australia and Brazil, skating has infiltrated the mainstream; sponsors have stepped up and are supporting athletes and events," said Hawk. "In other places, such as the Emirates, it's not at that level yet. But it will grow in time." Hawk suggested that time could be sooner than people think. "I see it on the rise for sure, especially in the UAE. I know Dubai is welcoming skate tours and I know a lot of professional skaters who have been here loved it, and feel like there is a scene brewing.
"There is also a skate camp in Afghanistan and one of the biggest skate communities in the world is in China, where the sport was only introduced recently - all kinds of things are happening. Seeds have been planted for sure." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org