By Sergio Rodriguez (Own work, upload pr OTRS) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
So the Rio Olympics are in its last days and I have been thinking about future games.
How can we make the games a bit more down to earth? I got a few ideas.
Heaps of sports have been clamouring for inclusion such as competitive ball room dancing (cleverly re-named ‘Dancesports’) and even Pole Dancing. Being included in the Olympics gives a sport a huge boost in visibility and respectability.
But the trend seems to have gone the other way by the fact that sports with already a big profile outside the Olympics, such as Golf and Tennis have been added, in the hope that sports with high visibility would attract the sponsorship.
I think a major consideration to include a sport is whether countries with the lowest GDP could be in it. Many sports such as equestrian events, swimming, and perhaps sailing are too expensive for many countries. This is reflected by the fact that rarely if ever we see African countries with relatively low GDPs winning in these events while we do in the track, which requires low levels of infrastructure.
So what sports I would I add?
Tug of War
Tug of war was contested as a team event in the Summer Olympics at every Olympiad from 1900 to 1920.. Yes a quirky sport that now resides in images of school fetes and summer English fairs like on Midsomer Murders.
But now it is a well established sport and best of all it doesn’t require lots of equipment.Tick. Doesn’t look like it requires huge amounts of money to participate. Tick. It is easy to watch on TV. Tick
Who wouldn’t want to see an Olympic sport that people drinking in pubs could think ‘I could do that’ ? It would be huge.
When I mentioned to introduce orienteering in the Olympics in a tweet I didn’t get much positive reactions.
@GuidoTresoldi Orienteering ffs
— Jurgen (@jurgs18) August 15, 2016
— Andrew K (@andrew1116) August 15, 2016
But orienteering is a very skillful and demanding sport. It involves running using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain. Participants are given a map which they use to find control points.
Again it appears to me to be a low cost sport that can be open to most nations.
The reason why it was rejected as an Olympic sport was because of one thing: Television. The Olympics are really a global TV event more than anything and orienteering is neither television- nor spectator-friendly, the venue of competition is often necessarily remote from major cities, and the duration of the event is longer than most other individual competitions. So it presents challenges for broadcasters and spectators to easily follow the competition, and there’s the main issue with orienteering.
But then I thought that technology now would allow remote small cameras to be positioned in strategic positions. If we have cameras at Mountain Biking, cross country skiing and even in front of a formula one car, surely we can televise an event in the bush. Sponsors logos could be displayed at each point. They’d love it!
Mixed Martial Arts (Modern Pankration)
While Tug of War and Orienteering are gentle sports, we need something that harks back to the Ancient Olympiads in Greece.
The founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, imbued in them very lofty ideals, but in the ancient Olympics games were often brutal and one of these sport was the Pankration.
Pankration, which literary means ‘all force’, was a combination of wrestling and boxing. It was a dangerous sport, in which everything was permitted except biting, gouging (stabbing with your finger in your opponent’s eye, nose or mouth) and attacking the genitals.
It seems to me that MMA doesn’t sound too dissimilar from Pankration, so if we have modern versions of ancient games such as the Modern Pentathlon why not a Modern Pankration?
An advantage of a MMA type sport is its popularity is across the world. The following table shows countries ranking in 2015.
Now I’ve no idea what all that data means, but it appears to me that this sport is popular across the world and as such would be perfect for the Olympic Games.
However there is no denying that MMA is a ‘full on sport’ not for the faint hearted. If even a ‘gentler’ version of boxing has had the Australian Medical Association calling for a ban at the Olympics imagine how images of competitors of doing the ‘Ground and Pound’ would go down amongst the more sensitive amongst us. Would this be something that parents may be comfortable their children seeing a competitor being knocked unconscious by a kick and then being set upon and punched until there is blood coming out of the mouth or nose? Not exactly the image the Olympic movement wants to portray I think. The Modern Pankration, like amateur boxing may have to be modified from its professional MMA version, although what the genuine devotees of MMA would think of this I don’t know. Some have argued that without the extreme aspect of the sport you may as well leave it to current martial art Olympic sports such as judo, taekwondo, boxing and wrestling. Also in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Karate will be included, so it seems that the ‘mixed martial arts’ are in the Olympics but just not mixed.
I am not a fan of MME or martial arts in general. Must admit that having it in the Olympics would be just entertaining seeing the outrage. It would attract lots of attention. And while it is brutal, these are superb athletes and no one is forcing them to do MME. They do it out of their free will. They know the risks and how to protect themselves.
When the decision where the 2000 Olympics was going to be held was to be announced I was in Italy. I remember watching a sport program on TV and there were Italian athletes and journalists and when they were asked where they thought the Olympics should be held, while all the journalists went for Beijing (being more ‘exciting’) all the athletes went for Sydney.
Many have been to Australia already for competitions and they knew what a perfect place it was for Sport.
Brisbane is a perfect place for the athletes. Not only Australia has proven time and time again that it is a top notch place when it comes to organise sporting events, but it is clean, safe and with a population who loves sport.
No issues with polluted water for the open swimming events. The ocean is beautiful. Crime rates are relatively low. The climate around September-October is perfect. We will see with the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games what a great event it will be.
Are you serious?
Of course I have been a bit tongue in cheek in this post. But underlying it there are a serious issues. The point is that the Olympics have grown to be gigantic monsters that while may attract prestige and the world’s attention for 2 weeks they have become hideously expensive often leaving cities into debt.
My argument about sports such as Tug of War and Orienteering is that these are accessible sports that while perfect to adhere to an Olympic ideal of allowing maximum participation will not be at the Olympics because they lack ‘star’ quality or are difficult to televise.
Sports like Golf (that require huge areas of land for the course) and Tennis (who have already a well established professional circuit which rewards its champions with millions) have been added to appease sponsors who want the ‘big stars’ at the Olympics.
Sports like MMA will not happen because despite being hugely popular there are limits of what the Olympics image will accept. Nosebands and double bridles cause unnecessary pain and suffering to horses during equestrian events, which have no say in it, while MMA athletes who are perfectly willing and aware of the risks involved may not fit the ‘image’.
Cities like Brisbane who could host Olympics which are athletes oriented will be shunned for those with air pollution problems such as Beijing, or social ones such as Rio de Jaineiro because of their profile and geopolitical power games.
It is hard not to conclude that dazzling as they are, the Olympic Games have failed in their mission. They take more than they give, meantime asking us to be willingly credulous. They must start again. Perversely enough, straitened Rio might have shown the way. What these Games lack might crystallise to some extent what was excessive and superfluous anyway.
The opening ceremony showed how less can be more. The gravy train looked to have slowed. The IOC nabobs were less ostentatiously obvious here than their FIFA counterparts two years ago. Way down the chain, amenities in the press rooms, for instance, were more spartan, and yet we got by. Duchessing media is a bit of an Olympic Games staple, but not in Rio, and kudos to the cariocas for that.
The question is whether the Olympics may suffer from the same sense of anger we have seen through Brexit and Donald Trump. Will there be an increase of the proportion of people around the world that will resent seeing huge amounts of money being spent on things such as the Olympics while their own financial situation is getting worse.
If the Olympics are to become sustainable they must stop being an expensive two weeks sugar hit for cities and sponsors. Athletes want to compete and all they need is adequate facilities and support. And perhaps simple accessible relatively inexpensive sports such as tug of war are not such a bad idea after all.