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How Obstacle Discipline became part of the Modern Pentathlon - interview with UIPM Secretary General
As Obstacle Discipline will be, or I think we can say is, part of the Modern Pentathlon, I had the pleasure to ask some questions to UIPM Secretary General - Shiny Fang. What's more, I've got answers. Please read below how it happened that Obstacle Discipline was selected, why it was selected from endless possibilities and what will happen next.
Przeszkodowo.pl: Let's start from the beginning, when the UIPM was informed to make a decision about replacing Riding with a new discipline?
Shiny Fang: In December 2021, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach stated that in order to be considered for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games programme, Modern Pentathlon must demonstrate a significant reduction of cost and complexity and improvement across the areas of safety, accessibility, appeal for youth and the general public.
For us, the message was very clear, UIPM must dramatically change Modern Pentathlon to remain relevant and retain our place on the Olympic programme.
The next step had to be selecting the new discipline from almost endless possibilities. How did you do that?
The UIPM created a 5th Discipline Working Group and instituted a comprehensive and transparent process to find an alternative to Riding. The Group had 21 members, including five external media and marketing experts, four current pentathletes, and 10 Olympians in total.
The New 5th Discipline Working Group was set the task of future proofing a sport that Pierre de Coubertin created especially for the Olympic Games more than 100 years ago; ensuring it remained true to its heritage but adapted to the realities of the 21st century. During that time, anyone who wanted to contribute to the consultation could submit ideas and suggestions to UIPM by email, via their National Federations or their relevant UIPM Committee.
How many serious options were considered?
The New 5th Discipline Working Group considered and debated 62 proposals. Among those, Climbing, Javelin Throw, Long Jump, Orienteering and Cyclo-cross were also considered.
The proposals came from 37 nations (Europe (46%) followed by Asia (22%), Africa (11%), South America (11%), NORCECA (5%) and Oceania (5%)).
22 National Federations and 15 individuals submitted proposals, with a separate proposal containing nine proposals from the Athlete Focus Group run by the UIPM Athletes Committee.
So, how it happened, that Obstacle Discipline was selected?
Following a three-stage scoring process, in May 2022, the Working Group unanimously – with one abstention – selected two variations of Obstacle Discipline for testing. The New 5th Discipline Working Group rigorously followed the 13 established criteria.
The selection considered athletes’ views, medical aspects (including workload, injuries and anti-doping), TV, media and marketing opportunities. As well of course as ensuring that the new discipline met the IOC’s requirements.
Let's face it, not all pentathletes were delighted with this choice.
Change often makes people feel uncomfortable and uncertain, and we know this from past experience. But change is in the DNA of our sport, and pentathletes have proved to be the most versatile in the world. On 12 November, the decision from the global UIPM Sports community was very clear: 83.3% voted in favour of adding Obstacle Discipline to UIPM Statutes.
The result provides UIPM with a mandate to propose a new-look Modern Pentathlon – with Obstacle Discipline replacing Riding – to the IOC for inclusion in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.
Moreover, feedback from pentathletes who participated in four Obstacle Discipline Test Events run by the UIPM in 2022 has been incredibly positive. In total, almost 300 pentathletes and 100 obstacle athletes from around the world trained and raced on the four bespoke courses, which comprised 28 unique obstacles. An official questionnaire resulted in the following participant feedback:
88% of pentathletes were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall Test Event experience
82% of pentathletes were satisfied or very satisfied with the enjoyment of the competition
72% of pentathletes were satisfied or very satisfied with the attractiveness of Obstacle design to global audiences and youth.
As Obstacle Course Runners and Ninjas, we are truly happy that our discipline was selected, but are you not afraid that it is still a very niche discipline that will not bring enough attention?
Quite the opposite. Obstacle Discipline has the potential to not only save our sport, but to make it one of the most popular and appealing on the Olympic programme, with some of the highest TV and social media ratings, and unlimited growth potential.
Obstacle Discipline is well and truly global, because it is easily accessible for young athletes everywhere.
30,000 permanent obstacle courses and training gyms worldwide plus 100,000s of obstacle ‘playgrounds’.
More than 20 million obstacle course racers of all ages worldwide.
250k people apply to compete on obstacle race shows each year, 70K in the US alone.
1 billion people in 148 countries have access to obstacle competition broadcasts.
Hundreds of millions of views on social media platforms each year.
300 million people watch Adventure Race TV shows held in 90 countries.
In addition, the value Obstacle Discipline would bring to the Olympic Games, and in particular the Olympic Games Los Angeles 2028, is absolutely huge. Obstacle will help to advance the IOC’s ongoing efforts to modernise the Olympic sport programme to reach younger fans in urban communities in more places around the world.
As you mentioned there were several test events, did other disciplines have also such tests?
All proposals went through lengthy discussions, but with time very much against us, there was simply not the possibility to test multiple options and combinations of discipline.
The comprehensive testing phase of Obstacle Discipline was incredibly well received. The results of surveys we conducted and published on the UIPM website from participating athletes in Ankara (Turkey), Manila (Philippines), Lignano Sabbiadoro (Italy) and Zielona Gora (Poland), were overwhelmingly positive.
There were big differences between obstacle tracks in Turkey and e.g. in Poland. This leads to question who design them, and what will be the final shape, or maybe there will be a set of approved obstacles and each organizer will be able to select from them?
UIPM just published its first Obstacle Discipline Competition Guidelines, and this will be followed soon by an Equipment Tender and Obstacle Catalogue, which will display the obstacles that will be put in place by future competition organisers according to the Guidelines. There will be a mixture of mandatory and optional obstacles.
What about European or World Championships – obstacle tracks can also be different? The UIPM Obstacle Discipline Competition Guidelines sets out a standard that applies to all UIPM Category A competitions such as Continental and World Championships, with more flexible criteria for Category B and C competitions. UIPM will work closely with future Olympic Games hosts on a unique course design for the Olympic Games.
Last question, when and where will be the first official Pentathlon event with Obstacle discipline? The UIPM 2023 U17 World Championships in Alexandria (EGY) from July 12-16 2023 will be the first competition with Obstacle integrated into Modern Pentathlon alongside Fencing, Swimming and Laser Run. UIPM is also planning to stage some standalone OCR/Ninja events in 2023.
Shiny Fang, former athlete of Synchronizing swimming and Gymnastics Aerobics, head coach, international judge, professor of Sun Yat-Sen University (1999-2006), and chief instructor for a series of educational programs. She has been involved in the sports industry and international relations since 2004, and part-time responsible for UIPM International Affairs since 2008. As Vice Competition Manager for the 2008 Olympic Games (2007-2008), and Competition Manager for 2010 Asian Games (2009-2010), she has been awarded as “Excellence of the Year”, “Organizing Proficient” and “Young Expert of Administration”. As the elected Vice President of the International Cheer Union (2010-2014-2018), Shiny Fang was also the supervisor of Sports Presentation in different multi-sport Games. She is currently the ASOIF Sports Development and Education Consultative Group Member.