Los Angeles has been selected as the inaugural host city for the World Urban Games, a new international competition that will feature nontraditional and emerging Olympic sports such as skateboarding, three-on-three basketball and BMX freestyle cycling.
Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong agreed to underwrite the event to woo the World Urban Games to the Los Angeles area. The biomedical entrepreneur, who also is a part owner of the Lakers, declined to disclose the size of his investment, but he said he plans to bring on additional sponsors to help cover the costs.
Los Angeles edged out a bid by Budapest, despite a reported $10.5-million pledge last month from Hungary. Los Angeles was also conditionally awarded hosting rights to the 2021 Games, if the 2019 event is successful. The games will be held just south of Los Angeles International Airport in El Segundo.
The World Urban Games is expected to draw 700 athletes, 300 referees and thousands of spectators to the five-day event next September. The competitions will be part of a large outdoor festival with food, music, art and digital entertainment, including esports, the Global Assn. of International Sports Federations announced Monday at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“This will be the world’s first World Urban Games, and what better place?” Soon-Shiong said. “We are the melting pot for the nation in regards to sports.”
The region has 11 major professional teams, ranging from the Dodgers and Rams, to the Galaxy, Sparks and Ducks, and it is home to elite athletic programs at UCLA and USC.
The World Urban Games, however, will feature “a new generation of sports,” according to the GAISF, which is organizing the games. The competitions will feature up to 14 different disciplines, including roller freestyle skating, bouldering (rock climbing), freestyle flying disc, breaking (dancing) and parkour, an extreme form of gymnastics using movements developed from obstacle-course training in the military.
GAISF has been collaborating with the International Olympics Committee to identify and nurture sports that are increasingly popular with young audiences. For years, the Olympic Games have struggled to stay relevant as their television audience ages — adding snowboarding in the late 1990s, followed by BMX bicycle racing and freestyle skiing. Surfing, skateboarding and three-on-three basketball will join the roster at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
Eight years ago, GAISF staged the World Combat Games to feature martial-arts competitions. But there were only two iterations — in Beijing in 2010, and St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2013. Although plans were being made to bring back the competition next year in Tawain, GAISF announced in April that it would stage the World Urban Games instead.
A similar offshoot competition, the World Beach Games, will launch in San Diego next year with kiteboarding and beach soccer.
The urban games concept was spearheaded by Patrick Baumann, a top International Olympic Committee executive who died unexpectedly last month at the age of 51. Baumann had close ties with L.A. officials, and worked with them during the bidding process for the 2024 and 2028 Games. As recently as late August, Baumann met with the organizers of the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles and toured venues.
He also spent time with Soon-Shiong and ex-Laker Rick Fox, who formed his own esports organization, Echo Fox. The trio met last summer in Switzerland at the Esports Forum, and bonded over a love of basketball and esports, Fox said.
Plans accelerated over the last three months.
“L.A. is a young, vibrant and creative city, which has helped to shape youth culture and the urban sports, which are the very heart of the World Urban Games,” GAISF’s Senior Vice President Raffaele Chiulli said in a statement.
Fox and Jenny Mann, a former Australian track star and who previously worked as a sports executive within the IOC will serve as co-managing directors of the World Urban Games L.A. Organizing Committee. Soon-Shiong will be chairman.
The World Urban Games will include a venue for e-sports competitions — an area of growing interest for Soon-Shiong, who recently became the minority owner of Daybreak Game Co., a developer and publisher of multi-player online games. Soon-Shiong separately has been building an El Segundo campus for the L.A. Times, which eventually will include an events center for community forums and e-sports competitions.
“The World Urban Games will be the first opportunity to not only feature the world’s best athletes in urban games such as basketball, biking, skating and climbing, but also the best athletes in virtual sports such as esports,” Soon-Shiong said in a statement.
While one of the long-term goals is to get esports into the Olympics, “this is not a 100-yard sprint,” Fox said. “But this will further the conversation and show the added value of esports,” he said.
El Segundo officials been supportive of the campaign to host the World Urban Games in their city. Municipal leaders said they agreed to turn over the city’s golf course, soccer fields and close streets for the five-day event near the L.A. Times. Plans include building an urban park in El Segundo before September.
“This came together rather quickly and we were impressed by the magnitude of the idea,” said Mayor Drew Boyles.
The city has not committed any additional financing for the games beyond making its facilities available, Boyles said. More than 20,000 people are expected to attend over the course of the five-day event.
L.A. Times sportswriter David Wharton contributed to this report.