So today the “Greatest Show on Earth” the 2016 Olympics start in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The Opening ceremony is tonight and tomorrow the sport begins*. Over the next 16 days the athletes will be competing for 306 titles in 28 sports (up from 302 titles in 26 sports in London 2012 with the addition of golf and rugby sevens – I’ll get to them). Now you might think 28 sports are too many but guess what? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) don’t agree.
On Wednesday the IOC announced that five new – well four new and one returning sport – will be added to the Olympic programme. Baseball/softball (the only sports that have been in the Olympics before from 1992-2008), Karate, Surfing. Skateboarding and Sport Climbing will all join the Olympic party in Tokyo in 2020. Between them the new/returning sports will bring 18 more events and hundreds more athletes to the Games. They will not replace any of the existing sports.
That is not really a surprise as before baseball and softball were voted out in 2005 the last sport to lose Olympic status was polo which was last an Olympic sport in 1936. The Olympics are a bit like what critics say about the England cricket team. It is hard for a sport to get into but even harder to get out of.
Now you might think a baseball fan I would be pleased that baseball is back in the Olympics. Well no actually. The reason is the same reason that I don’t think men’s football should be in (see previous post “Olympic football. Women yes men no”). The best baseball players will not be there as unlike the NBA in men’s basketball (which is in its off season during the Olympics) or the WNBA in women’s basketball (which plays in the NBA off season and takes an Olympic break) the MLB players won’t be there as the 162 game season is too long to take a break (and in any case if the 2020 Olympics are held at the same time of the year that the last Tokyo Olympics were in 1964 – October – that means it will be in the postseason and no franchise would release their star players in that scenario). So while I would love to see Texas Rangers star pitcher Yu Darvish pitch for Japan in his own country it will not happen. And in my opinion unless a sport makes its best players available it should not be in the Olympics.
Softball I have a different problem with. Namely that it exists at all. No I don’t think the sport should be banned it should be rebranded as women’s baseball. Which as it uses bases, balls and strikes and the aim is to score runs it is. Rebrand it as women’s baseball give it the same rules as it’s “big brother” – same size ball, same style of pitching, same distance between bases for example – and I would have no problem with it.
Of the other sports Karate, Surfing, Skateboarding, and Sport Climbing I have no problem with them assuming that they have women’s events too. Except that with thirty three sports there are too many. So what sports would I replace?
Just to be controversial I wouldn’t replace any. But what I would do is get rid of the male halves of sports where the Olympics is not the pinnacle of the calendar but the women’s event is. Three examples of this are football basketball and baseball where for the men it is not the most important event but for the women it is. And the main example of this is the most controversial of the two new sports in 2016.
The appearance of golf in Rio might be a success. But it has had a rotten build up. Fourteen male golfers – including all of the world’s top four – have withdrawn from the games. Ostensibly this is because of the Zika virus but it is funny that hardly any athletes from other sports have withdrawn. Even US goalkeeper Hope Solo – who thought of pulling out – has turned up although she copped a barrage of abuse from Brazilian fans on Wednesday. And all the elite women golfers have turned up.
Which could lead to a major injustice. While golf’s place in Tokyo is secure who could blame the IOC if they voted out a sport whose star players clearly don’t give a toss. At least the male star players don’t. But the women do. For women’s golf the Olympics are the pinnacle. Why should innocent female golfers pay the price for the arrogant selfishness of their male counterparts?
Answer : They shouldn’t. So if I ran the Olympics I would say that every sport must have a women’s event but does not to have a men’s event. There is a precedent for this. There are two disciplines that are already women only – rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming – so why shouldn’t there be more?
So while there are too many athletes at the Olympics I would not cut any sports. Instead I would cut out the men’s events in sports where for the men the Olympics are not the pinnacle but for the women they are. That means no men’s baseball, basketball, football, golf or rugby.
This idea of mine has two advantages. It cuts down the number of athletes without cutting down the number of female athletes. It would reduce the gap between the number of male and female athletes (in London there were 10768 athletes taking part 5992 (55.6 per cent) were male and 4778 (44.4 per cent) were female). Maybe getting rid of male events where the Olympics are not the pinnacle will lead to gender equality at the Olympics. And isn’t that what everyone wants?
*Typical of football’s arrogance the football events started on Wednesday (women) and Thursday (men).