Michael Pavitt

"You're joking. Not another one."

The viral response of “Brenda From Bristol” to another general election in the United Kingdom in 2017 could easily have been my response to the news of another multi-sport event being launched last year.

The World Urban Games here in Budapest have, though, been thoroughly enjoyable and certainly something different.

Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) President Raffaele Chiulli promised a cocktail of sport, music, street art and dance before the Games. He was not wrong.

GAISF and Budapest have got a lot right, especially for a first attempt at the event and one with little preparation time and relatively low-level promotion.

The Games has felt something of a free hit for both, with Budapest having the option of hosting again in 2021. It gives the Hungarian capitsal the opportunity to learn any potential lessons and perfect the event, rather than watching another city reap the rewards.

Prior to the event I thought the sport programme could be quite light, with six main sports and two showcase events.

In hindsight, I think it was near enough spot on. It would have been easy to clutter the programme, increasing costs and perhaps making the event too big, too soon.

Organisers appear to have taken the approach of walk before you can run.

The smaller sport programme has helped scheduling immensely. I was caught up in a crowd of people who were marching from the roller freestyle finals over to the start of parkour competitions, because the timing of the competitions worked out near enough perfectly to attend both.

The festival format allowed visitors to watch multiple events throughout the day ©ITG
The festival format allowed visitors to watch multiple events throughout the day ©ITG

Despite there only being 13 medal events across the two days, which really is not a lot, it always felt as though there was a lot going on.

The compact, festival-like layout has helped a lot in this respect. You could do a lap in roughly 10 minutes if you were only browsing the sports on offer.

It is why the park and the free ticketing works. Visitors to the park have freedom to do as they please. If an event is crowded, you can simply walk one minute away where another activity is taking place.

When there were breaks in events like the breaking or parkour, you invariably walked past their venues to see initiation activities taking place on the “playgrounds”.

There were breakers teaching young children some moves and giving talks about how they became involved in the first place. A teenage 3x3 basketball match on one court, with the Russian basketball team practicing on another.

At times you would have to slalom through people attempting to skateboard or duck to avoid frisbees, while watching others attempt small scale parkour courses or BMX and scooter tricks. Sometimes with success, other times with a faceplant.

Access to athletes is important if you are trying to influence young people and it has worked well here. In one instance I bumped into the Hungarian basketball team, just as the announcer began reading out their team for their quarter-final match.

It is not something I recall happening at many of the other sporting events I have been to. The most obvious comparison is to the urban park at the Youth Olympics last year in Buenos Aires. You imagine the concept will be replicated at Tokyo 2020.

Athletes are a bit different, the type who say stoked after competitions and seem to care more about doing something cool than winning.

While there have been medal events here, they have often felt like an afterthought. There is not the life or death feel you get when watching some other Games, which has been quite refreshing.

It feels somewhat wrong to describe the World Urban Games as a Games. A festival would be a more appropriate word, with something for everyone.

As some of the families were seen heading one way through the turnstiles towards the end of the day, there were younger people coming in the other way with music going on until late on Saturday.

The sport programme suited that kind of style. Personally, I do not think I could watch hour upon hour of each of the events, which I think you could refer to as “lifestyle sports”.

It feels a very much pick and mix programme, where you can dip in and out. You can watch a couple of breaking battles, then have a wander over to the parkour, then take in some basketball competition.

From the attendances it was clear that the breaking - Olympic parlance for breakdancing - was a big draw.

Crowds grew impressively throughout, leaving numerous people resigned to big screens to watch some with rows upon rows lined up.

I remain completely baffled by the scoring system and I do not think I was the only one. It might just be a coincidence but every battle I watched seemed to end in a draw, forcing the competitors to have an additional dance off.

The World Urban Games had something for everyone ©Getty Images
The World Urban Games had something for everyone ©Getty Images

You can also see why the International Gymnastics Federation have been so keen to secure/annex parkour, depending on your viewpoint. The speed events reminded me of sport climbing, another fast-paced competition which is coming to the Olympic programme next year. There is clearly potential in having competitors race over the courses and have a knock-out format.

At Tokyo 2020, the urban parks will no doubt add the certain “youth and cool” factor the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is after, which could be a good addition to what they already have.

I am curious as to how the IOC will seek to preserve their content for broadcasters, given that events like parkour and breaking saw vast numbers of people with their phones out recording or streaming via Facebook Live or Instagram Live.

Given how the events are great for dipping in and out, as well as taking clips of, it has seemed a bit of a waste that the Games social media channels have seemed relatively quiet.

For instance, the official English language account for the Games had around 50 followers only last week and is now approaching 200 with the event set to end.

Obviously, it is the first edition and some slack needs to be given due to the Games only being awarded to Budapest earlier this year. Despite the challenge of promoting a completely new event in such a short time period, there is no doubt it has been well attended.

As the first edition, it was hard to judge the smaller attendance on the opening day when schoolchildren made up the majority of those present.

It could be viewed as a soft opening to allow organisers to have everything ready ahead of a bigger weekend crowd. I wonder whether an future editions finals of a sport could take place on the opening evening to ensure a bigger attendance. Perhaps this is where the sport programme has its window for expansion.

Breaking was one of the most popular events at the Games ©WUG Budapest
Breaking was one of the most popular events at the Games ©WUG Budapest

"To be very honest, the future is not to have something that is unnecessarily bigger, unnecessarily longer," Chiulli said earlier today.

"The format has to be something in line with what the host city really wants, using existing infrastructure, and aiming to create a long-lasting legacy, engaging communities.

"I don’t know if you could have that with a Games which is much bigger and much longer."

The Friday (September 13) attendance also makes me suspect Chiulli is right about the length of the event. While the Olympic Games will have the draw to encourage people to book time off work, a free ticketed festival-type event will not.

They have been fortunate to have had bright sunshine for three days here. Had the event taken place last weekend, when rain had reportedly poured down, it would have been interesting to see how it would have impacted the competitions and whether the attendance would have plummeted.

I suspect Budapest will take up their option to host the event again in 2021, given that the first edition feels like a clear success. If they can secure more sponsors like Red Bull – which seems a good fit – the Games probably has a good future despite being a free event for spectators.

However, I think we also need to be careful about describing events like this are the “future of sport.”

Similar to events like street athletics, the World Urban Games feels like a good and different addition to the current sporting calendar, but I would not expect it to replace the traditional models.

And that is totally fine.