One Small Step

Fifty years ago, astronaut Neil Armstrong took his one small step for [a] man on the moon. Five days prior to the launch of Apollo 11, David Bowie released Space Oddity, a record inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The BBC used this track during coverage of the moon landing. 

A spacewalk, it turns out, is more of a climb than a walk. The harsh outer space conditions, an extreme lack of gravity and the constraints of a cumbersome spacesuit all make it harder than on Earth. Therefore, preparing astronauts for space missions is rather challenging. One preparation method is rock climbing as it develops coordination of the trunk, back, lower arms and fingers.

After completing five Space Shuttle missions and seven spacewalks, astronaut Scott Parazysnki climbed Mount Everest. He is the first person to have both flown in space and summited the highest point on Earth. 

Just recently, NASA have developed LEMUR, a new climbing robot which can scale rock walls by gripping with hundreds of tiny fishhooks and using AI. It is apparent that climbing and space go hand in hand.

In September 2018, the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) held the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria. It played host to 58 nations and 843 athletes; over 500kg of chalk was used on over 2,000 holds.

The Bouldering World Championship title was won by 19-year old Kai Harada from Japan. Japan triumphed again in June of this year when 23-year old Tomoa Narasaki won gold at the IFSC Worldcup in Vail.

Besides Tomoa Narasaki and the young Kai Harada, Japan produces some amazing climbers including the professional Akiyo Noguchi. She is known for winning the IFSC Climbing World Cup in Bouldering four times and she has won the Bouldering Japan Cup nine times, more than any other Japanese athlete. She has a total of 8 medals for Lead and 58 for Bouldering.

Koichiro Kobayashi, 51-years old, won gold at the Paraclimbing World Championships in 2018. Kobayashi is visually impaired but with the aid of his coach he uses the Japanese HKK climbing method (in English its DDS meaning Direction, Distance, Shape).

In June 2019, the second World Indoor Climbing Summit (WICS) was held in Sofia, Bulgaria. It hosted almost 300 attendees from 26 countries, including Japan, UK and USA. The John Atanasoff Forum on the Sofia Innovation Park was the venue and it was hosted by Walltopia. Founded in 1998, Walltopia is the world’s biggest manufacturer of artificial climbing structures exporting to over 70 countries. The Forum is located next to Walltopia’s stunning HQ building, a new cathedral to indoor climbing and bouldering.

Speakers at WICS highlighted how private equity investment in France has enabled The Arkose Group (a provider of natural urban climbing) to expand. A panel including speakers from the USA, Asia, the Middle East and the UK all gave examples of growth and regional trends.

Doug Miller, a fitness veteran from the UK spoke passionately about the evolution of the fitness industry and I spoke about areas of innovation that’s driving growth in fitness. We were followed by a panel discussion on what indoor climbing can learn from fitness with Ivaylo Penchev, CEO of Walltopia, believing “that fitness has a sexier image than climbing”.             

The image of climbing could change when the sport makes its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. It will feature three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing. Speed climbing pits two climbers against each other both climbing a fixed route on a 15m wall. In bouldering, climbers scale fixed routes on a 4m wall in a specified time.

At its 134th Session the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted a proposal from the Paris 2024 Organising Committee to include climbing as one of four additional sports, as it is not yet a permanent Olympic sport.

Different from Tokyo, Paris will expand from one to two distinct competitions with 6 to 12 medals and 40 to 72 athletes in total. Under the proposal 16 women and 16 men would compete for 6 medals in the Speed; 20 men and women would compete for 6 medals in the Bouldering and Lead. Still provisional the IOC will make a final decision by December 2020 on proposed new events following observations at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Aomi Urban Sports Park, a temporary venue close to the Athletes Village and with views across Tokyo Bay, is one of the venues looking to engage the youth with Climbing and Basketball events.

Figures from the Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC) demonstrate that around 1 million people in the UK currently climb independently indoors and estimates 59% climb exclusively indoors. The number of wall visits is up 16% on last year and ABC expect the figures to rise a further 12% across the 500 plus walls in the country. The IFSC estimate there could be around 50 million climbers worldwide by 2020.

Previously a niche discipline, indoor climbing is now booming. For example, TV coverage of climbing is expanding; BBC had the speed finals from Innsbruck on YouTube, iPlayer and app. Red Bull TV, ToFreeClimb TV, Reel Rock TV, EpivTV all cover the sport.

New technology and innovation are also providing new opportunity for climbing – indoor walls can now be installed at home and it doubles as an ambient work of art when not in use.  

Europe’s largest indoor climbing arena is the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, next to Edinburgh airport, Scotland. Built into a disused quarry EICA has over 15,000 bolt-on holds, with 300 routes ranging in difficulty from grades 2 to 8b. The centre is also home to the only official IFSC World Record Speed wall in the UK and Scotland’s only ‘clipnclimb’.

EICA will host the IFSC European Championships (Lead and Speed) in October 2019. The IFSC biennial Climbing World Championships, for the first time in the competition history, will be hosted in Hachioji, Japan on 11-12th August 2019.

Both competitions will be keenly watched as qualifiers will later head to the Olympics. Climbing is taking one small step for sport and one giant leap for participation.

Edinburgh International Climbing Arena

Edinburgh International Climbing Arena

clipnclimb at the Arena

clipnclimb at the Arena

UK Prime Ministers Influence on Sports Policy 1948-2018

The 1948 Summer Olympics, known as the Austerity Games, took place in London when the country was recovering from war. At this time sports and politics did not mix; Clement Atlee, leader of the Labour Party in 1945-1951, had a mandate to implement post-war reforms but sport was not a priority. As the government had a no sports policy, the Olympics was instead overseen by the British Olympic Authority (BOA) as it is known today. The BOA was created in 1905 and predates the Olympic movement. It’s many sports governing bodies were run as voluntary enterprises often with Royal patronage.

The 1950’s was a decade of many British world champions, including sporting hero Roger Bannister who broke the four-minute mile in 1954. The world champions had little to no impact on the three Conservative Prime Ministers (Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan) of the time. However, after Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1953, the Royal patronage of sport expanded quickly, and the Monarch became a patron of BOA.

The swinging ‘60’s brought rapid change through a youth-driven cultural revolution and a flourishing art, fashion, music, transport, technology and sport scene. The first politician responsible for sport was Quintin Hogg, known as The Viscount Hailsham from 1950 to 1963. Hogg was given several special assignments by Macmillan, including Minister with special responsibility for Sport but it was short lived (1962-1964) as Hailsham had little interest in sport, and later wrote that “the idea of a Minister for Sport has always appalled me”.

Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, in keeping with the mood of the ‘60’s, sponsored liberal changes and promoted the popular Denis Howell as first Minister of Sport. Howell, a keen sports man served from 1964-70 and again in 1974-1979 becoming the longest serving Sports Minister to date. Howell was a tireless crusader on sporting issues and even campaigned in vain for Birmingham, his home city, to host the Olympic Games. Howell was a top football referee and headed several commissions including the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR) which has now reborn as Sport and Recreation Alliance. The committee enquired into sponsorship of sport culminating in the Howell Report of November 1983. Howell had Wilson’s approval in supporting the 1966 FIFA World Cup, when England beat West Germany 4-2 in the final. Howell and Wilson also worked on pioneering government sports policy including establishing the Sports Council, now Sport England.

Denis Howell, Minister for Sport, lifting weights after opening a new sports and leisure centre in Birmingham, 26th Sept 1977

Denis Howell, Minister for Sport, lifting weights after opening a new sports and leisure centre in Birmingham, 26th Sept 1977

After the party of the ‘60’s, came the hangover and the hands-off approach of the 1970’s and ‘80’s. In 1970, Edward Heath came to power and the decade is remembered for power cuts, strikes, shocking economic headlines. The decade ended with Margaret Thatcher coming into power from 1979 until 1990. Thatcher exemplified the total indifference towards sport and some would say even encouraged the ‘50’s hands-off approach to include reduced school sports, sale of playing fields, and questioning the need for the Sports Council, or even a Minister for Sport.  Sport went into a slump until Thatcher appointed the former Olympian Colin Moynihan as Sports Minister in 1987-1990. Moynihan who was actively involved in rowing and boxing, held many positions on sports boards, committees and commissions including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and BOA. He was also a Director on London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) in the build up to the 2012 Olympics.

Lord Moynihan published a report after the Beijing Olympics that stated over 50% of the Team GB’s medallists had been privately educated meaning that half of the medals came from just 7% of the population who had been privately educated. Moynihan said it is, ‘one of the worst statistics in British Sport’ and the vowed to work towards giving the 93% an equal opportunity.

The unlikely hero of sporting success and the unlikely successor to Thatcher was John Major, Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997. Major realised British sporting success could present political opportunities and it was his government that launched the National Lottery, of which sport is a key beneficiary. As funding for Olympic sports increased so did the number of medals. In 1996 Atlanta, Britain came 36th in the medal table and had funding of around £5 million. Four years later in Sydney Britain rose to 10th place and the lottery funding had jumped to around £70 million.

If Major’s government got the ball rolling then Tony Blair’s government, 1997-2007, ramped up investment in sport at all levels. Blair’s government appointed the charismatic Tony Banks as Sports Minister (1997-1999) then the dedicated Kate Hoey, 1999-2001. From 2001, Britain entered the longest period of stability for sports with Tessa Jowell as Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2001-2007 and Minister for the Olympics in 2005-2010. Jowell’s running mate was Richard Caborn, Sports Minister 2001-2007. Together they campaigned for and won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics. They also agreed on the first audit of all indoor and outdoor sports facilities.

Dame Tessa Jowell spent nearly a decade at the Department of Media, Culture and Sport

Dame Tessa Jowell spent nearly a decade at the Department of Media, Culture and Sport

Prince William and Sports Minister Richard Caborn at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany

Prince William and Sports Minister Richard Caborn at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany

By the time of the Beijing Games in 2008, UK Sport budget to fund Olympic athletes had grown to £264 million and Britain finished fourth in the medal table. Four years later in London a total of £1.2 billion budget was allocated to non-Olympic Delivery Authority activities, such as elite and community sports, the Paralympics Games and security. Britain finished third in the medal table. 

Tony Blair became the first former prime minister to launch a sports foundation carrying his name in the constituency he represented for 24 years. The Blair Foundation invested in local people to make the most of themselves through sport between 2007-2017.

Tony Blair at the launch of his Sports Foundation in 2007

Tony Blair at the launch of his Sports Foundation in 2007

Blair, Jowell and Caborn believed in sport for social change and worked on improving sports policy to reflect this.

Whilst writing this article the Conservative MP for Eastleigh, Mims Davies, has been appointed Under Secretary of State for Sport & Civil Society following the resignation of Tracey Crouch who stood down on principal over delays of fixed-odds betting reforms. Theresa May remains Prime Minister. 

In the historical drama series, The Crown, from Netflix, there’s one person the Prime Minister refers to each week. Queen Elizabeth II every Tuesday at 5.30pm meets with the Prime Minister of the day. At one of these weekly audiences David Cameron, PM in 2010-2015, suggested that the Queen’s acting debut could bring the Monarch, the Olympics, 007 James Bond together for the first time. The Queen agreed to appear in the spoof James Bond sketch where Bond arrives at Buckingham Place to escort Her Majesty to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.   

The Royal Family tradition of promoting and supporting sport has been prominent since 1953. Queen Elizbeth II presented the trophy at the FIFA World Cup in 1966, the Queen was also at Wimbledon to present Virginia Wade her singles title in 1977. The Queen’s husband, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was patron, president or a member of over 780 organisations most of which were sports related.

The Queen’s grandchildren continue the tradition. Prince William, Prince Harry and their wives Kate and Meghan are all ambassadors that sport has the power to change lives for the better. Prince Harry has championed the value of sport in helping wounded servicemen become mentally and physically stronger through his work with Invictus Games.

One thing’s for sure, in 2019 and 2020 British politicians and royalty will be in Japan to watch the greatest sporting spectacular and support the British teams and athletes.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, promoting the 2018 Sydney Invictus Games

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, promoting the 2018 Sydney Invictus Games

By David Minton

Original Article - Sasakawa Sports Foundation

Fitness Industry in Tokyo, Japan

David visited Tokyo last week to attend a number of Japanese fitness industry events.

He met with the President of Sasakawa Sports Foundation for the release of their white paper on "Sport in Japan 2017". He presented to the Fitness Industry Association of Japan and the Waseda University. 

He also visited a number of health clubs. boutique studios and gyms including Aqua Sports & Spa, Deportare Club, R-Fitness, B-Monster Boxing and Anytime Fitness. 

Japan & IHRSA 2017

David will be presenting his thoughts on the UK Fitness Industry in Tokyo, Japan this week. On his return to London, David will be speaking at the opening of the 2017 IHRSA European Congress. 

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His agenda is as follows:


IHRSA Opening Keynote - The State of the UK Fitness Market lead by David Minton...

The UK is unique in auditing the fitness industry in granular detail each year. The Leisure Database Company has developed a consistent methodology for the industry and built a database now used by operators, suppliers and financiers to the industry. You will receive highlights from the annual State of the UK Fitness Industry Report, which includes trend analysis, growth in number of gyms, members, value of the industry and the penetration rate, which reached 14.9% in 2017. David believes the UK is beginning the golden age of fitness and will share his projections of growth leading to 2020.

A whole street approach to improving health and activity in London

Cycling in London has seen remarkable growth, even since my last article for Sasakawa Sports Foundation in June 2015. During the morning rush hour in London’s zone 1 (the central area) 32% of all vehicles on the roads are now bicycles, and that includes me on my Brompton bike. 

In 2000 cars outnumbered cyclists by 11 to 1, by 2014 the ratio had dropped to 2 to 1, and unofficially in 2016, following the opening of some of the super-cycle-highways, 70% of vehicles on some roads are bicycles. Investment in cycling infrastructure, around one billion GB pounds, (131,471,890,500 Japanese Yen) is boosting the number of cyclists.

For tourists and locals alike this new world where cars, pedestrians and cyclists all have their own traffic lights, lanes and space will take a while to get used to. Unlike Japan, Londoners have been used to jaywalking but that is changing as everyone needs to be more alert and aware of others. All road users have a responsibility to each other now more than ever. This new bike culture shows what can be achieved by rethinking the process of getting around. Olympic legacy was one element in a perfect storm of events, politics and policies that changed behavioural patterns, adjusted attitudes and put common sense first. Londoner’s and tourists alike are discovering that cycling truly is one of the greatest feelings of freedom you can have in a modern city. 

Transport for London (TfL) not only has the budget to spend on the new cycling lanes but it also has a role in improving the health of Londoners. The importance of walking and cycling as part of everyday routine is being encouraged as these deliver huge economic and social benefits by keeping people active. The expected growth of cycling up to 2020 is estimated to deliver “£250 million in health economic benefits annually”. Increased walking and cycling offers many other advantages including cleaner air, less noise, more connected neighbourhoods, less stress and fewer road traffic accidents. A-whole-street approach to improving health and quality of life is being adopted by TfL. World-wide cities compete these days on ‘quality of life’ and the Monocle Quality of Life Survey of top 25 Cities has Tokyo first, Fukuoka seventh and Kyoto ninth, London is not listed so far. 

Since the launch of the public cycle hire scheme in July 2010, TfL confirmed over 52 million journeys have been made and the number of bikes have almost doubled since the 6,000 originally sponsored by Barclays Bank. The new sponsor, Santander Bank, is offering a free weekend this month and it is estimated that August 2016 will break the monthly record of 1.2 million hires. Bike events are adding to the interest in cycling and the Prudential Ride London 100 Mile event, a legacy from 2012, had 26,000 cyclists participating last month with an additional family ride around the London sites and a smaller 46 mile ride too. The media company Sky, who also sponsor Team Sky, with successes in major events like Tour de France, have expanded their city-wide rides in to cities outside London due to popular demand. Sky Ride will reach the magic figure of 1 million registered riders this year.

The London Plan, the statutory spatial development strategy for Greater London, has recognised that new residential and office developments must have higher levels of cycle parking to meet the growing demand. Released in March 2015, the Plan has doubled the cycle parking for new offices to one space for every 90 sq. m. of gross floor area. The new standards allow for between 8-15% of the workforce to travel to work by bike. New residential developments also have higher standards of two spaces for all two bedrooms or bigger homes. The London Plan is reflecting the rapidly changing patterns of work and travel. Flexible working is now an option for many, particularly those with young children, so a better balance between work and home life can be achieved. The digital economy and the rapid changes in technology are also driving changes in working patterns.

The philosophy of ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’ was developed by Dave Brailsford, the former performance director at British Cycling and now general manager of Team Sky. Brailsford believes by breaking down and identifying every aspect of the athlete’s performance and then making a 1% improvement in each area the performance can be significantly enhanced. The same philosophy can be flexible enough to be a tool for sustained improvement City-wide and ‘whole-street’ as shown by TfL and the London Plan. Other sports adopted the philosophy as the aim at Rio was to ensure Great Britain became the first home nation to deliver more medals at the following games. With 27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze, a total of 67, putting Britain second in the medal table. It was the highest number of medals for Britain since 1908, so job done, till Tokyo 2020.

David Minton is the Director of The Leisure Database Company & Correspondent for SSF in London.

Original article can be found on the Sasakawa Sports Foundation website.