"Bright future" for Modern Pentathlon TV product

International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) Secretary-General Shiny Fang made an interesting statement in which analysed the current situation of modern pentathlon. 

An optimistic Shiny FangI said: "I am pleased to update you on some key developments in the development of our Modern Pentathlon TV product, but first it is important to set the context of the historical relationship with one of the UIPM's key stakeholders.

The partnership between the UIPM and Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) has always been cordial, respectful and productive - and at times a little complex. This is inevitable given the number of changes that have taken place in the Olympic Modern Pentathlon since the 1990s, and the driving forces behind those changes. 

In terms of TV and media, the driving force can be summed up in one word: audience. It has been important to serve the existing Olympic Games audience with an ever-improving product. However, it has been - and will continue to be - even more important to try and to attract new audiences when the Pentathlon is the showcase of the world's greatest sporting event. 

So why has it sometimes been so complex? I remember a difficult moment during the 2012-2016 Olympic cycle, when OBS produced a video consisting entirely of the worst mishaps suffered by athletes in the Riding element of Modern Pentathlon over the years.

It was upsetting for our community to be subjected to this kind of 'blooper reel,' and I wrote a letter to the OBS CEO expressing our dissatisfaction, to which they responded with a statement detailing the number of clicks and views of the video, which they felt indicated a positive audience response. When our mission is to attract new audiences to our sport, it is hard to argue with such logic.

UIPM Secretary General Shiny Fang. TWITTER
UIPM Secretary General Shiny Fang. TWITTER

OBS, as the name suggests, are masters of the art of Olympic broadcasting and we listen to their feedback, even when it hurts. In 2014, an OBS team visited our Pentathlon World Cup in Rome when we were testing the new Fencing Bonus Round. Their Chief Content Manager used the word "disconnected" to describe the state of our sport and the order of events at the time, which gave us a clear direction. 

After Rio 2016, where for the first time the Pentathlon had four disciplines (only swimming was missing) in one Olympic venue, a more cohesive sport was built around the concept of a Pentathlon Stadium with a 1 sport / 5 disciplines / 5 hour programme. 

The vision of 5-in-1 was realised in Tokyo, a huge improvement. While this more compact and more understandable concept was well received by broadcasters, it was clear that a five-hour duration would continue to limit the number of channels that would broadcast an entire Pentathlon live on air. 

Another more TV-friendly product was born at the end of 2021 with the new 90-minute format, which debuted in the 2022 season with a semi-final/final format that immediately intensified the competition. Finally, every "taker" of our TV show was able to show a complete pentathlon without cutting out a single event. 

During these first two years of experience, the 90-minute product has improved a lot, and in 2024 the number of TV stations has increased and the feedback has become more and more positive. 

Shiny Fang, with UIPM President Klaus Schormann. UIPM
Shiny Fang, with UIPM President Klaus Schormann. UIPM

However, further adjustments will need to be made later this year for the consideration by the UIPM Congress, as there are ways in which we can reduce the number of competition days and ease the burden on athletes during the intense World Cup season. 

Now we look ahead to the Los Angeles 2028 cycle and the most radical change yet! The new TV product took further shape during a constructive meeting with the OBS programming team and senior management at their headquarters in Madrid on 12 March. 

One of their many intelligent suggestions was to change the order of events, starting in Los Angeles in 2028 with obstacle, marking the start of a new era and introducing Pentathlon with a series of short and exciting head-to-head events to attract new audiences. 

Next comes the new single elimination fencing format that our NFs are currently testing, followed by an innovative change to the way the swimming event is run, designed to appeal to spectators but also sensitive to the athletes. The idea is to start the swimming with an overall time handicap based on the points earned in the obstacle and fencing events - something that has been discussed at times within our community.

The details will have to be worked out by our internal team and committees, and there are various options and ways of doing this, but a swimming handicap means more relevant races, which means viewers will continue to follow the overall story without switching off. And then we finish with our dramatic laser run as per the 'status quo'. 

Athletes competing in the men's individual Modern Pentathlon at Tokyo 2020. GETTY IMAGES
Athletes competing in the men's individual Modern Pentathlon at Tokyo 2020. GETTY IMAGES

Everything proposed by the OBS is subject to a democratic process, culminating in the need for approval by the UIPM Congress. As a first step, the results of this OBS meeting were reported back to the Executive Board, where they received unanimous support. The IOC is also in agreement with the OBS in pushing for a more exciting and presentable Pentathlon TV product at LA28. 

What are the next steps? Once the testing of the new fencing format has been completed, the appropriate procedures will be followed to present the necessary adjustments to the Congress, bearing in mind the need to minimise the impact on athletes' training and to ensure maximum accessibility for National Federations to develop the sport. 

Having travelled a long way with the OBS, I was impressed at this meeting by their vision and their pragmatism. This is based on real and deep Olympic broadcasting and distribution experience, as well as a flexibility to understand the charm and complexity of our sport, while respecting that the benefits to athletes should outweigh any adjustments that may be inconvenient or disruptive. 

We enjoy working with the OBS team and appreciate their guidance and patience in believing in the future growth potential of our sport, along with all of our innovations and improvements," she concluded.