By Adrian Hill - 16 June 2009
The accolade of a place in the Olympic Games is so cherished and sought-after that the decision to be made by the International Olympic Committee on which two sports will be admitted in 2016 is not one to be taken lightly.
The voters are human beings, not machines, so there is bound to be some subjective thought at work as baseball, golf, karate, roller sports, rugby sevens, softball and squash are considered following presentations made to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne yesterday – whatever the protestations to the contrary.
Sport is an emotive subject, after all that’s why we all love it so much. Show me someone who professes to enjoy all competitive activity equally and I would cast doubt on their true feelings. No matter how impressive the participation figures, demographics, commercial appeal, "universality" or adherence to Olympian ideals, everyone will have their favourites among the eclectic list of seven.
It’s to be hoped that those human leanings will be tempered by cold analysis of the facts, as I will attempt to do here. My personal interest is in rugby, golf and squash for professional, spectator and playing reasons – there you go, there are my "vested interests".
Baseball – It’s obvious that the American television market is the trump card in, appropriately, the pitch of "America’s Game". It should not be under-estimated how much weight this carries and Chicago is among the favourites to host in 2016. However, it cannot be considered a truly global sport, it fell off the list of Olympic sports when its big stars didn’t turn up and there is the drugs issue. It has to be said, though, that this is just as much a factor in some of the established Olympic sports.
Verdict - NO
Golf - Worldwide television appeal, a commercial goldmine and would add a touch of glamour to the programme. Supporters also argue that if Roger Federer and Michael Jordan can play in the Olympic Games, then why not Tiger Woods? But would the leading players fancy it? They already cut back their playing programmes to fit in with the schedule of the Majors and an Olympics in July or August would interfere with this. Isn’t it just a sport for the middle class upwards, due to the equipment, time and money needed to play? Another factor to consider is the facilities required. A city such as Rio de Janeiro would have to build a Championship quality course – would there be a legacy from that?
Verdict – YES (money talks...)
Karate – A sport for everyone and enjoyed by millions in every part of the globe. No need for a costly new arena. But aren’t there enough combat and martial art sports in the Olympics? Perhaps judo, taekwondo and karate should be combined as "Martial Arts", just as trampolining fits in with gymnastics, and water polo, diving and synchro join forces with swimming as "Aquatics". This may be its best chance of inclusion.
Verdict – NO (not as a stand-alone sport)
Roller Sports – Another true global activity and would hand the IOC a valuable youth audience. No sport would sum up more accurately the traditional close of Games call for the "Youth of the world to gather in four year’s time". The novelty value of events totally unrelated to anything else in the Games would be appealing to the casual Olympic spectator and TV viewer, plus there would be no venue costs. On the down side is that some of the disciplines are technical events involving judges, a lack of worldwide media profile and it could be considered a contrived inclusion with no one single focus. With Skateboarding, inline, roller hockey, artistic, racing – where does the non-afficionado go?
Verdict – NO
Rugby Sevens – With the perceived policy of adding one team and one individual sport, rugby may only really be competing with baseball and softball. This would leave its major rivals – golf and squash – to battle it out for the other place. The event would be a massive cash cow in terms of ticket sales, with rugby’s proven travelling support adding vitality to the Games in its first week and making use of the athletics stadium, which often lies idle until the track and field traditionally begins in the middle of the Games fortnight. Competitive teams from every continent, becoming more and more popular with Women and a fast-moving, but easy to understand, sport. It would also give countries such as Fiji and Samoa what may be their only realistic shot at a medal. The negatives lie in a lack of interest in key television markets such as the United States, China and India, the perception that the main event (15-a-side) is not being served up plus the top nations being from a small cabal of Western Europe, Oceania and Southern Africa.
Verdict - YES (due to the physical nature of the sport, 15-a-side would not be practical in a two-week timeframe, so Sevens it is)
Softball – Although now totally separate from baseball, it basically derives its strong points from a similar place – the US. Has a stronger case than its "cousin", as is seen as more appealing to Women and the young, and does not have the albatross of drugs on its shoulders. A proven winner with spectators at previous Games and would be the undoubted pinnacle of its players’ careers. However, its power base is in the Americas, so has limited global appeal.
Verdict – NO
Squash – Perhaps the best all-round bid with few weaknesses compared to its competitors. A global participation sport with leading practitioners from a variety of nations, limited venue costs as the world governing body would provide "drop-in" courts, has the potential to reach a very wide demographic, fast and active sport and is part of nearly all the other major multi-sport festivals. On the other hand, is perceived as being not the greatest television spectacle (although the march of HD technology may improve that come 2016) and, like Karate, suffers from the feeling that there sufficient closely related sports in the Games.
Verdict – NO (near-miss, but more worthy than some of the established sports)
So, there you have it – golf and rugby sevens, with squash very close. Maybe it goes to prove that subjective thought will be crucial.
Here’s a closing thought for you, though perhaps too radical for the IOC....With no more room in the Summer Games, why does its winter cousin have to be just about snow and ice? Sports such as badminton, fencing, handball, squash and table tennis are all synonymous with being played during the winter months and would make the Winter Olympics a more global event.
Adrian Hill has recently gone freelance, having covered sport for both the BBC and Sky Sports for almost 20 years. He also contributes to various newspapers and magazines, and is currently writing a book on rugby union history – Rugby On This Day.
Golf in the olympics ! strolling round a field hitting a ball
every 10 minutes - pulse rate virtually the same at the finish -
keep the olympics for real sport
By JOHN ROGERS
18 June 2009 at 09:24am
What an intelligent, thought provoking blog. I've watched rugby
sevens at the Commonwealths - brilliant; 'Yes' to inclusion in
the Olympics. I love watching golf, but can't get my head around
it at the Olympics. I thought Adrian made a good case for
karate/martial arts. His closing thoughts ref winter Olympic
sports ought to have more serious consideration in future
By Chris Maddocks
18 June 2009 at 14:45pm
Shouldn't the Olympic Games be the pinnacle of every sport?
therefore as much as i love golf and rugby (7's or otherwise) the
Rugby World Cup and 4 majors /ryder cup will always be the
highest competitions the participants want to win.
19 June 2009 at 10:22am