I was reviewing threads on a popular triathlon website yesterday and one thread in particular caught my eye. “What sport would you like to see removed from the Olympics?”. There were four pages of responses none of which suggesting triathlon should be removed. But all those other silly sports . . well now. After all, how can badminton be taken seriously? Air rifle was referred to as the “Pop Gun”. Archery? How come that is in there? And even though we call ping pong table tennis it’s still ping pong. There were also several suggestions that the shooting sports should go away what with all the gun stories in the news.
I read all of these comments with mild amusement at the ignorance and some annoyance at the arrogance. Having participated in archery and the shooting sports and enough sports in general to know that every sport has it’s enthusiasts and experts, if you ask different people what sports shouldn’t be in the Olympics you will get different answers.
It is worth noting that the board mentioned above is predominantly American. For those who lead a less sheltered life and don’t refer to football as soccer, you know that badminton is taken pretty seriously in the rest of the world. As is table tennis.
To compete at a world-class level in any sport requires dedication, time, talent, and sacrifice and typically more than a little cash. Each sport has an intricate network of participants from the local grassroots level on up to National and International competitions. None of these sports are some cobbled together game that was wedged into the Olympics for the benefit of a few people.
I think there is a legitimate question around several sports that have been introduced that otherwise have a world stage. The list includes Basketball, Soccer/Football (your choice), Tennis, Golf, Ice Hockey, etc. All of these sports feature major leagues and events that provide ample opportunity for participants to play for greater glory and a far bigger paycheck than the Olympics will ever provide. This really becomes evident when you look at current participation in golf and basketball. Many of the best athletes in both elected not to attend due to health and safety concerns. This simply did not happen in other sports where there is far greater risk. Triathlon with it’s open water swim in now notoriously filthy Rio waters is a great example. Not a single eligible athlete stayed away due to safety concerns. The fact that golfers and basketball players are willing to forego what should be the most prestigious sporting event of their lives tells me it’s not that important as an Olympic event.
The US basketball team is also not all that interested in being part of the overall Olympic experience. They have chosen (again) not to stay in the Olympic village but rather on a luxury cruise ship docked nearby.
The theory is that because they are so popular and “the most recognized athletes in the world” and that the energy required to stay in the Olympic village “wears on you”, they are playing it safe and hanging out on a boat. Oddly, some guy named Bolt seems okay staying in the village. But many other well-known professional athletes from other big, professional sports are not staying there either. Perhaps this is the first litmus test for whether the sport belongs in the Olympics at all.
In 2020 the IOC will re-introduce baseball and softball. I “get” the softball part. Sadly, despite the amazing play of the women’s college world series, there is no world stage beyond that for softball. But why baseball? All the best players from around the world play in Major League Baseball. There are 162 games by each team culminating in nearly endless playoffs well into November. All these players are under expensive contracts with their teams who aren’t going to be so willing to let a high-priced asset take time off to go off to Tokyo and take a chance of getting injured in the name of a medal. As a result many of the best players in the world won’t be there.
The big argument around the introduction, or removal of certain sports is often TV viewership. Swimming always has big appeal. Supposedly basketball does too. I think from an arrogant US perspective we just want to see our NBA players demolish any and all opposition. (Anyone besides me hoping they get beat?) Many of the extreme sports have been added in hopes of attracting a younger audience. Women’s beach volleyball matches are televised in their entirety. Sure, they show the men too but watch closely next time. How come they don’t show the men giving hand signals prior to the serve yet they zoom in on the women’s signals? Hint: The signals are hidden from the opponents by a bikini-clad bottom. A great body in a small bikini is always good for TV ratings. I’m not sure any of that is working and still suspect the ridiculous opening and closing ceremonies will be the biggest Olympic ratings on TV.
I just ask that next time you find yourself saying “Why is insert_sport_here in the Olympics”? Realize there are many people out there who have dedicated their lives to whatever that sport is. Just because you personally don’t enjoy it, doesn’t mean others don’t. Let sport be sport. Let the Olympics be about the athletes and not the countries or the TV ratings or the pros having another opportunity to toot their own horn.