March 24, 2020 / 10:59 PM / 4 days ago

Interview: Surfing chief says Games will be most relevant ever, after 'rogue wave'

LONDON (Reuters) - Surfing has waited more than a century to make its Olympics debut and the postponement of this year’s Tokyo Games means it will be another 16 months or so before Fernando Aguerre’s vision finally becomes a reality.

Excitement had been growing for the maiden Olympic surf competition, first mooted as far back as 1912, but with the world in the grip of a deadly coronavirus pandemic, International Surfing Association (ISA) president Aguerre got the news he was expecting on Tuesday.

“We have been thrown a rogue wave,” Aguerre, told Reuters from La Jolla in California where he has lived since 1985.

“I was expecting it,” he said of the decision agreed by International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a few hours earlier.

“The IOC were trying to find extra time to come up with the right decision and those four weeks they hoped to have suddenly disappeared, they evaporated.

“It’s a wise decision. I congratulate the leadership of Japan and the IOC president. It’s removed the uncertainty.

“Given how the circumstances the world is going through have changed so quickly, no one could perceive it as viable.”

Even at a time of global crisis and anxiety, Aguerre maintains the positive vibes that helped him persevere in his quest to have surfing in the Olympic family after a failed bid for the Beijing 2008 Games.

“Listen, as a surfer, you learn that the waves come when they want to come, not when you want,” Aguerre, president of the ISA since 1995, said. “We were ready for 2020. We are ready for 2021. People contacted me today expressing condolences, and I said ‘hey, it’s okay, an extra year won’t be anything bad.

“I’m sure there will be things that need sorting out for next year, but that’s nothing compared to what the world is sorting out right now on the health side and the economic side.

“But when this virus is over I’m sure we are going to have the most historical and relevant Games in history. No doubts.”

STAY HOME

The coronavirus outbreak has raged around the world this year, infecting nearly 380,000 people and wiping out the international sporting calendar and, according to fashion entrepreneur Aguerre, put the economy in an “induced coma”.

While the postponement of the Games has been a blow for athletes, Aguerre used the example of Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, who won gold in the 100m freestyle swimming at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics but could not defend his title in 1916 because of the First World War.

“In 1920 when the Games happened again he was ready, and he won gold again, at 30. The most respected biographer of Duke wrote to me today and said ‘I hope you get strength from his example.’ We waited 100 years for the wave, and we will wait another year for the next one.”

Aguerre is a passionate advocate of clean oceans and environmental sustainability and, like everyone, the charismatic Argentine has watched events unfold with a sense of horror.

Last week he called on surfers to stay home, listen to music, dance and cook, while humanity heals.

A bout of reflection might not be bad either, he said.

“We have given nature a break, but we really need to think about how we do things in the world and this is an opportunity to review that. Use less energy, be more efficient.

“Nature is giving us a warning. The earth doesn’t need human beings but human beings need a healthy earth. So we have to step up to the challenge.”

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis

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