Patrick Nally

The queue of Federations applying for membership of SportAccord is growing with up to 29 knocking at the door at the last count.

It is a subject I am only too aware of. As President of the International Federation of Poker, which has developed and promoted the skill-based, non-gambling version of the world's most popular card sport, we have been working through the membership process with SportAccord for several years and have recently been told that we will have to wait a little longer.

It is a situation which needs to be put into context.

Over the years many of the bodies which govern sport have been criticised for being inward looking and resistant to change.

They have been caricatured as members of "The Blazer Brigade", living in a cocoon and quick to stamp on new ideas which threaten to rock their status quo.

But as I look back on more than four decades of working with International Federations, National Olympic Committees, the International Olympic Committee and a host of other bodies, it is clear that the charges do not really stand-up and certainly cannot be levelled universally.

Just think how much has changed at The Olympic Games which has carefully but consistently altered its sporting roster to reflect the changing interests of a global audience and remain relevant. Thirty-two years ago in Los Angeles, synchronised swimming, rhythmic gymnastics and windsurfing, all popular variants of core Olympic disciplines, made their Games debuts and have become central to subsequent programmes.

Skateboarding will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images
Skateboarding will make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

Looking ahead to Tokyo in 2020 we will see karate, surfing, climbing and skateboarding featured on the Summer Games programme for the first time after the return of rugby - through sevens - and golf to the Rio 2016 Games.

And, of course, change has not been confined to the Summer Games. The addition of snowboard events, adding spectacle and colour to the Winter Olympics, reflects a willingness to embrace sports which have developed as a result of cultural and technical advances in recent times.

Beyond the Olympics many sports have succeeded in launching new variants as they have responded to the changing lifestyles of today's participants and spectators. Many of those changes have been to adapt short-sided or time constrained versions of the core sport, and none has been more successful than T20 cricket, now a commercial phenomenon in India, Australia and elsewhere.

Then there is the impact of technology to consider. Modern pentathlon is one of the most historic and traditional of all current Olympic sports yet technology plays an increasingly important part in the sport itself and the way it is presented to the public. This is most obvious in the shooting discipline, where lasers are now used.

In tennis and both rugby codes, as well as big league sports such as American football, technology is used to rule on crucial umpiring calls, generally adding to crowd excitement and involvement in the event. Even football has adopted goal-line technology to rule if the ball has crossed the line and a goal scored.

The reality is that most governing bodies have been cautious rather than Canute-like in their attitude to change. By and large they have wanted to be certain that change will benefit and not damage the sport, rather than simply attempting to resist developments at all costs.

In an age driven by technology, new forms of connectivity and a broader range of leisure and lifestyle choices than ever before, the global sports community will be faced with new opportunities and new pressure for change. These will come not least from new forms of sport which demand a different range of skills to traditional sports, while sharing a common need for focus, discipline, training and development on the part of players. Structured competition, clear rules, transparent governance and overriding integrity will be needed on the part of governing bodies.

There is no doubt that the world of sport is changing. From new physical sports such as mixed martial arts, which have exploded globally, to obstacle based fitness competitions such as Tough Mudder, with their magnetic attraction for millennials and massive commercial potential, there is a whole lot more out there to keep the bodies and minds of partisans occupied. I am not alone in believing the established sports community would do well to be prepared to embrace rather than rebuff them.

T20 cricket is an example of a sport adapting successfully ©Getty Images
T20 cricket is an example of a sport adapting successfully ©Getty Images

We live in a world where there is an abundance of choice and opportunity for many. Consequently, lifestyles are, like modern media, increasingly multi-dimensional rather than linear. Just because a young person is an avid mind sports player does not mean that they do not also love tennis and play football at the weekend.

I believe the opportunity facing sports governing bodies is to foster an environment in which new sports are welcomed, even if they challenge existing conventions. In that way, they can be helped to regulate, organise, and govern to the standards expected of other sports. Critically they will be encouraged to adopt and maintain the fundamental ethos at the very heart of sport: of inclusivity, fair play, respect and striving to improve.

New sports are the inevitable result of a changing world - it has always been that way. But the spirit of sport is unchanging and we all benefit from ensuring that those new sports share the values of those which have been celebrated for hundreds of years. That way everybody wins.

Sport continues to evolve. After all, if it had not been for a rebellious schoolboy called William Webb-Ellis deciding to pick up and run with the ball during a soccer match, we would not have the modern Olympic sport of rugby. At the Rugby World Cup the best teams in the world compete for the Webb-Ellis Trophy in the third biggest team sport competition in the world. That did not happen overnight but the results have been remarkable.

So my message to SportAccord is to consider change in sport in the wider context, remain open-minded and never forget that, in a changing world, the future of sport depends on the ability to successfully manage - not resist - evolution.