There are many both younger and older involved in the sport of gymnastics who stayed up late to see the end of The World Championship Snooker Final. Those who did would have seen a familiar face during the presentation ceremony. A face now very much part of the furniture, but a face many still associate with snooker, darts, boxing and crown green bowls.
That face belonged to the enigmatic Barry Hearn, mentor of the great Steve Davis and innovator of so many events in sports across the years. It may come as a surprise to some, however, to discover Barry was behind the recent Sky television coverage of The World Cup of Gymnastics. What’s more, he’s also a huge fan, which is great news for every youngster and club member out there.
Promoting The World Cup of Gymnastics
Hearn, renown for jazzing up the coverage of sporting events in order to make them a more exciting product, announced a four-year partnership with Matchroom Sport to promote an annual World Cup of Gymnastics at the O2 Arena in London. The first event was a huge success as you might expect. Why? Because it was shown in its entirety, drawing in a whole new legion of fans.
The first one-day event – featured eight national teams competing in six men’s events and four women’s. What’s more all 18,000 seats available sold out extremely quickly, proving there’s a strong fan base out there much like snooker.
“I cannot believe the number of people who’ve told me they love gymnastics since the Olympics,” he said. “10.8 million watched Max Whitlock win gold on television. I was one of them. The trouble is, in the past, this was a sport that only surfaced every four years. Not anymore. It’s not just about a provincial domestic event, it’s about taking these guys and making them global superstars. Not just once every four years, but every day.”
Bringing Gymnastics To A Wider Audience
It’s already been noted next year’s event will bring with it a few new innovations, in true Barry Hearn style. But the sports traditions will be totally respected. This hasn’t been lost on gymnasts like Rio bronze medal winner Nile Wilson, who said: “When I first started competitions were held in sports halls in front of 50 people, all of whom were the parents of competitors. This is so exciting for the sport. “I’m going to call myself The Wilsonator – That’s got a ring to it.”
Jane Allen, the chief executive of British Gymnastics, added “The number of Britons who participate in gymnastics has grown by 10-15 per cent every year since 2011. When you’re having that sort of growth in your numbers, you feel a real benefit,” she says. “Our clubs are expanding too, and we’ve got better business models out there. They’re not just family clubs, they’re business clubs. They’re attracting investment. We’ve been very fortunate, we’ve got some very good athletes and without them, we wouldn’t have the product. But we’re also represented by 1,500 gymnastics clubs across the country. We haven’t staged a non-Olympic gymnastics event in London since 1975.Our strategy has been for some time to bring this event to London to bring it to the attention of a wider audience.”
Let’s be honest – why shouldn’t gymnastics become a mainstream sport? After all, those competing can do more with their bodies in terms of fitness and flexibility than most footballers. It could be argued they also work much harder at their game.
Viewers at the Olympics, of course, are spellbound by the amazing movement of everyone involved of course. The answer must be, let’s see more of the sport on television and on a regular basis. There’s no better way to bring youngsters into the sport.