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By Philip O'Connor
TOKYO (Reuters) - Surfing's proud Olympic debut on Sunday will be the result of a decades-long struggle for acceptance by the sport's governing body, but its president Fernando Aguerre has told Reuters the hard work is really only beginning.
First elected to the top job in the International Surfing Association (ISA) in 1994, Aguerre is delighted to see his sport finally make it to the biggest stage, and his intention now is to make it a mainstay of the Olympics.
"There's going be good waves, there's a strong typhoon https://www.surfline.com/surf-news/surf-forecast-tokyo-2020-olympics-tropical-cyclone-swell/126332 off the coast of Japan and we know that the waves are getting bigger, so be ready for Sunday morning," Aguerre said in a telephone interview.
The 64-year-old recounted surfing's long and rocky road to the Olympics, from an initial meeting with former International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan-Antonio Samaranch in the mid-1990s to the announcement in 2016 that it would be part of the Tokyo Games.
"We didn't know how hard it is to become an Olympic federation as a matter of practice, all the things that we needed to learn, and are still learning," he revealed.
Originally from Argentina, Aguerre has presided over the implementation of slick professional structures in a sport that is better known for its laid-back attitude.
"We're a small federation with a small financial footprint, but we're doing everything that the large, senior federations have been doing. But we're ready ... (and) it would make our life much easier if we were part of the programme permanently."
Key to the inclusion of surfing at the Games, alongside fellow newcomers karate, sport climbing and skateboarding, has been the ability of host cities to request that certain sports are part of the programme, with 2024 Olympic host Paris also inviting the surfers to take part.
Being a core sport at the Olympics would also open up access to revenues that could change the face of the sport, Aguerre explained.
"None of the new sports will receive proceeds from the Games in Tokyo. We are part of the programme, we are medal sports, we're featured on TV, just like any other sport. This is one of the issues that is open still," he said.
In London and Rio, funding of around $500 million was distributed among federations at different levels, with smaller sports such as modern pentathlon, rugby and golf getting around $15 million in Rio, Aguerre said.
"That's a little under $4 million a year which, for a small federation like us, that would be like two times our budget. That would be a huge contribution to helping us to develop the sport around the world."
Aguerre said he believes both the Los Angeles and Brisbane Games in 2028 and 2032 will also want to include surfing, and he would like to see other disciplines such as stand-up paddle racing and longboarding included.
"We are now an Olympic federation, we have two events, it would be very logical to add at least one other discipline in both genders," he said.
All that's left for Aguerre and surfing fans around the world is to look forward to the competitions beginning at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach early on Sunday morning.
"The surfers that compete here are athletes, people that train, they have a program of activities that is no different from athletes in any other Olympic sport," he said.
"We've done our homework and the whole sport of surfing is united, everybody agrees with being here ... if they (the IOC) want a long marriage, we're ready."
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)