The Olympics is great, but could be much better
The Games of the XXX Olympiad are just around the corner, and there is a familiar buzz in the air. There’s a sense of excitement and anticipation for what many promote as ‘the greatest show on earth’.
People are talking about the big stories that will emanate from London in July and August.
They are talking about the men’s 100m final and whether Usain Bolt will defend his crown, or will his fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake usurp the king?
They are talking about whether Michael Phelps can bag another swag of gold medals in the pool, and whether the Great Britain team can bag a few more golds than usual at home.
But they are also talking about David Beckham, who was left out of the British football squad for the Games. This begs the question, if one of the biggest stories less than a month out from the Games is about a celebrity who is these days better known for fashion than football being overlooked for selection, then is the Summer Olympic Games in need of a revolution?
The Olympic Games should be about the best athletes in the world coming together every four years to achieve their life goal – winning a gold medal. It should be about athletes reaching the pinnacle of their sport. Is that what the Olympic Games represents today, or is it in need of a refresh, a reload, a revolution?
Football, or soccer, is the logical place to start this thought process. There is little doubt that football is the biggest sport in the world. It is played in almost every country and is followed by more people across the globe than any other sport. But does this popularity alone mandate its inclusion in the Summer Olympics?
To help answer this question, lets go right back to the very first Olympic Games in Olympia, Greece in the 8th century BC. People from all around the Greek Empire came to compete in athletic events and represent their town, village or city. They also competed in the nude, but that is not the kind of revolution we need these days (sports clothing is a good revolution, especially for weightlifting). The warriors back then were the best athletes their cities and villages had to offer, competing for the only glory on offer on at the time.
Fast forward to the first ‘modern’ Olympic Games, in Athens in 1896. Fourteen nations competed in 41 events, from athletics and swimming to gymnastics and wrestling. The Games grew stronger and stronger from 1906 onwards until it became the massive corporate sporting event it is today. Over 11,000 athletes from 204 nations competed at the Beijing Games, with roughly the same numbers estimated in London this summer.
Somewhere along the line, as the Games became a corporate juggernaut, something was lost. Back in the 8th century it was the best athletes coming to the biggest event in the world.
From 1896 through much of the 20th century, it was the best of the best representing their country at the highest level. This is the essence of the Olympic Games – the best athletes, representing their country, at the highest possible level. But that ideal has been slowly corrupted by sports being included at the Games that don’t deserve to be there.
Back to football and our friend Beckham. Football is the biggest sport in the world has its own event (the FIFA World Cup) where the best players from all around the globe represent their country at the highest level. This should disqualify the sport from the Olympics.
The evidence is clear. FIFA, football’s world governing body, actively ensures that their World Cup is the only game in town when it comes to truly worldwide international football by stipulating that only three players over the age of 23 can represent their country at the Olympic Games. Fair enough, that’s their prerogative – so ditch it from the Olympics. This would enrich the Games, not detract from it.
Young footballers the world over grow up dreaming of representing their country at the World Cup. They don’t dream of winning Olympic gold, they dream of lifting the trophy like Pele and Maradona before them. That’s fine, great even, but that culture should disqualify the sport from the Games.
This is the criteria that should be used to determine sports to be played at the Olympics:
a. Is the sport popular in enough countries and with a significant amount of the world’s population? These terms may be difficult to adequately spell out, but lets roll with it for now; and
b. Is winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games the pinnacle of the sport?
If the answer is no to either of these questions, the sport does not qualify for the Olympics. Thank you linesmen and thank you ball boys.
Which is a nice segue to tennis, another leading candidate to be booted from the Games. Tennis players dream of winning Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open and the Australian Open. They even have an international tournament where they can represent their country in the Davis Cup. No one cares about the Olympic gold medal. Tennis is gone. Can anyone name who won the men and women’s gold medals in 2008 without looking it up?
There are others too which should fall by the wayside to allow for the revolution and a more streamlined Games. Synchronised swimming wouldn’t make it past the first criteria, and in that group you could probably lump one of taekwondo and judo. Do we really need both Asian martial arts in this new, revolutionised Games?
This is without even mentioning wrestling, which is at least a traditional Olympic sport (and tradition should always count for something).
So far we have eliminated five sports from London’s list of 26. The number 21 has a nice ring to it, however we need to look to the future and the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro to see the real problem. Two new sports have been added to the Games of the XXXI Olympiad – rugby sevens and golf.
Rugby sevens is a great sport, one that is on the rise and gaining in popularity, particularly in Asia. But unfortunately it falls into the same category as soccer, and falls down in the second leg of our criteria. Rugby sevens is still rugby, and all the players on the field would take winning the Rugby World Cup over winning gold at the Olympics.
Golf, too, would not pass the second test. Golfers not only strive to win one of the four major tournaments across the world, but also have international tournaments in the Ryder and President Cups. The Olympic motto is: Citius, Altius, Fortius, or Faster, Higher, Stronger. Not ‘a longer drive’.
The inclusion of these sports devalue the credibility and spirit of the Olympic Games. We want to see athletes who have dedicated their lives to winning gold. Those who have been driven to the pool by their parents since they were six and swum endless hours and kilometres looking at the black line.
We want sprinters who have spent their professional lives at the track, working meticulously on their start and hours in the gym building their power. We want long jumpers and high jumpers, shooters and archers, gymnasts and cyclers.
These athletes don’t have World Cups, professional tournaments and leagues that are watched by millions around the world every year. The Olympic Games is their time to shine. When was the last time you watched cycling in a velodrome?
When was the last time you watched a 4 x 100m relay on the track? When was the last time you watched a marathon, a weightlifting event or a long jump competition?
An Olympic gold medal should be the pinnacle, it should mean everything. It’s not just another trophy to add to the cabinet.
If a revolution can sweep through Olympics, then it would truly by the greatest show on Earth.
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