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Olympics – then, now and the future

sportingworldblockAs we continue to discuss one of the greatest spectacles on the planet, probably only the Football World Cup comes close at 3.2 billion views, with the Olympics at just over 4 billion views. Let’s take a look at what comprises this event, what did and what may in the not to distant future.

The number of Olympic Games’ sports have grown from nine at the first Olympic Games in 1896, to 28 to be contested at the Rio Olympics in 2016, with more sports always keen to get into this exclusive list.  Let’s take a look at the changes in the sports programme over time.

Sports come in and out of vogue around the world over time, and in order to continue to be relevant to the world of sport, the Olympic Games needs to adapt with these changes.

Since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, as many as twelve sports have disappeared completely from the schedule. These are croquet, cricket, Jeu de Paume (anyone knows what this is), pelota, polo, roque, rackets, lacrosse, baseball, softball and motor boating. The Winter Olympics also has a few sports and events that have been discontinued.

The most recent sports to be discontinued are baseball and softball which were dropped from the 2012 Games. This was the first time in 69 years that a sport itself had been removed from the Olympics programme, with the previously dropped sport polo removed in 1936.

Added to this is a large number of discontinued events from sports that are still on the programme, such as the swimming events of plunge for distance and underwater swimming, the track and field events of the standing high jump and tug-of-war (for real…this was in the Olympics), and the shooting events of running deer and duelling pistol (now this I would love to see returned) and there are many more.

In the past, the host country often included their own sports. Some of the discontinued events were simply updated to metric distances or modified into the well-known events of today, especially in track and field and swimming.

Needles to say there are always sports on the fringe of being selected, and those that only stay in due to being traditional. In recent years, Baseball and Softball have been dropped from the programme, while golf and rugby will return to the programme this year. Of course there is a limit to the number of sports and therefore athletes that can be included, and there are specific rules in place for including new sports.

Under the rules of the Olympic Charter, the IOC Executive Board are able to add new disciplines to existing sports without needing the approval of the full membership. Although many sports were looking at adding extra events to their programme, in 2013 the executive board decided not to include any more events on the programme this year. Sports which had applied to add new disciplines for Rio included basketball (3×3 event can you say half court?), cycling (a points race, BMX freestyle and mountain bike eliminator events), triathlon (mixed relay); and judo (team event).

For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, baseball and softball, karate, sport climbing, skateboarding, squash, wrestling and surfing have all been recommended for inclusion. Some sports will be looking to add new sports events under an existing sport like the International Basketball Federation who plan to apply again for 3×3 basketball to be added.

Believe it or not, tug-o-war was once an Olympic sport.

Believe it or not, tug-o-war was once an Olympic sport.

New rules brought in by the IOC Agenda 2020 reform process allow each organizing committee “to make a proposal for the inclusion of one or more additional events on the programme for that edition of the Olympic Games”, with the final decision resting with the IOC.

In 2013 the IOC executives met to discuss the make-up of the Summer Games from 2020. At that time, wrestling was the sport cut from the list, even though hockey and the modern pentathlon were reported to be most in danger.

There followed a selection process for sports bidding for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games. Wrestling was brought back into the battle to appear in Tokyo in 2020, along with baseball and softball (joint bid), climbing, karate, roller sport, squash, wakeboard and wushu. It is also interesting to note a few other sports that were considered. Apparently 12 sports were initially considered and only the eight sports mentioned above were retained.

Surfing, dancing, bowling and netball didn’t make the cut.

Later that year the IOC cut karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu from this list, leaving baseball-softball, squash and wrestling on the shortlist for inclusion on the 2020 Olympic programme. The announcement of which of these three sports was selected at the 125th IOC Session in September that year in Buenos Aires, Argentina – the winner… wrestling.

So ultimately no ‘new’ sport was added.

There is still a chance more sports may be added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The latest information suggest that due to its huge popularity in Japan, men’s baseball and women’s softball are favorites to return to the program after being dropped following the Beijing 2008 Games. Karate, squash, skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing and roller sports are others with serious chances, while new disciplines in pre-existing sports, like 3×3 basketball, are also vying for inclusion.

In June last year, twenty-six IOC-recognized Federations proposed events to be considered for inclusion at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: baseball and softball, karate, squash, bowling, snooker, sport climbing, surfing, wushu, roller sports, air sports, American football, bowls, bridge, chess, dancesport, floorball, flying disc, korfball, netball, orienteering, polo, racquetball, sumo, tug of war, underwater sports and water skiing.

Only seven IOC-recognized sports did not apply: climbing and mountaineering, motorcycling, motor racing, cricket, basque pelota, lifesaving and powerboating. This list was reduced to a shortlist of eight sports: baseball and softball, bowling, karate, roller skating, sport climbing, squash, surfing and wushu. See a trend here?

The shortlist was reduced further to five sports – baseball and softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing and surfing (leaving out bowling, squash and wushu) and have also been recommended for inclusion on the Olympic programme at Tokyo 2020. The IOC explained, “the five sports – karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing and baseball/softball – offer a key focus on youth, which is at the heart of the Games vision for Tokyo 2020. They represent a combination of well-established and emerging sports with significant popularity in Japan and beyond. They include team sports and individual sports; indoor sports and outdoor sports; and ‘urban’ sports with a strong appeal to youth”.

The Organising Committee for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 proposed the new sports in response to the new flexibility provided by Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement, to encourage innovation in the Olympic programme. Olympic Agenda 2020 gives host cities the option of suggesting new sports and events for inclusion in their edition of the Games.

The host city selections, mercifully, are not binding on future Games hosts.

The inclusion of the new sports would add 18 events and 474 athletes to the Olympic programme in Tokyo, without impacting existing sports. The package promotes gender equality, with each of the five sports having equal numbers of teams for men and women, while also focusing on innovative and exciting sports for Japan and the wider international community.

Final confirmation is expected to be made at the IOC Session in Rio de Janeiro at the Games, with no details on exactly how many sports will be added.

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