Sports and the Olympic Games’ Programme

IOC-7Ever since the commencement of the modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in 1896, the Olympic programme has been of keen interest to the custodians of the mega sport event. Different sports practised around the world have always been keen to become part of the Games’ programme.
Indeed, interest has been so very keen that at times administrators of some sports have gone to great lengths, not all of them appropriate or acceptable, to gain access to the Games’ programme.
Readers may have an interest in knowing precisely how a sport gets onto the Olympic Games’ programme and why is it that they are often so very eager to be part of the sports festival.
The Olympic Games
History records the Olympic Games as having been an important feature of Greek antiquity with the first recorded edition credited to the year, 776BC. At the time the Games were shrouded in Greek mythology with the event dedicated to the Greek god, Zeus. Not surprisingly therefore the winner’s prize was initially a wreath made from the branches of the olive tree. The Greeks considered the olive tree a sacred phenomenon.
History reveals that the ancient Olympics grew in content over the years with new sports added at each edition. Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II brought the Olympic Games to an abrupt end in 394 AD.
In 1894, at a meeting in the Sorbonne, Paris, France, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed and the Greek, Demitrios Vikelas, was established as its first president. The IOC agreed the re-introduction of Olympic Games, commonly referred to as the modern Olympics, with the first edition to be held in Athens in 1896.
Since then the Games have been held with much pomp and pageantry, growing in size, complexity and international appeal. Over the years some sports have been added while others have been replaced. Cricket, for example, was on the Games programme of the 2nd edition of the modern Olympics, held in Paris, France, in 1900. Two teams contested the event, Great Britain and France. Today France does not even play the game. Cricket never appeared on the Games programme after that.
Golf was also on the Games programme in 1900 and again in 1904 before exiting the programme.
In 1988 the IOC decided to put a cap on the size of the Games and quickly implemented this four years later when the Games were held in the small Spanish city of Barcelona.
The global impact of the Olympic Games and the innovative measures brought to bear on the product and the institution of the IOC by the Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Games of Los Angeles 1984, Peter Ueberroth, secured the financial viability of both institutions. This has made the IOC’s brand the second most recognised brand in the world today. Apple still leads the way.
The introduction of professional athletes in the Games with effect from 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, raised the bar on the quality of the competition since it offered the international community an opportunity to see the best in the world compete in friendly competition without direct financial reward as prize-money.
The sale of television rights and the exponential expansion of media technology have lifted the Games into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
Today, many sports are anxious to get onto the Games’ programme while those that are already on have been forced to renew themselves in order to remain relevant to the youths of the day and so maintain their presence on the Olympic programme.
Getting on the programme
There was a time when the criteria for getting onto the Games’ programme were very clear. Today those criteria seem quite blurred and several international sports organisations continue to ask themselves what it is that prevents them from accessing a place there.
Netball, for example, has been trying for decades to show that it has satisfied the criteria but today believes that the goal posts have constantly shifted against them. This is not the only sport that holds that view.
Baseball and Softball found themselves off the Games’ Programme while Rugby and Golf are set to make a return at the global sports festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in two weeks’ time.
There are those who readily point to the billions spent on and made as the primary determinant of precisely what sports end up on the Games programme at any point in time. This is a view that is difficult to challenge.
The decision to include gold on the Games’ programme for 2016 and 2020 raised eyebrows in many circles especially since many thought that earlier attempts to bring the sport back into the Olympics may well have been a factor that caused at least one member of the IOC to resign. This may well have been speculation but there are those who would hold fast to the original stance.
The transformation of golf in the recent past, especially following the emergence and dominance of Tiger Woods, saw the sport reach into the homes of even the most depraved black communities, with a global interest that had hitherto been considered impossible.
Today golf is one of the most watched sport at the global level and the appeal to young people is amazing.
The approval of Olympic Agenda 2020 by the IOC has opened the way for host cities of future Olympics to have the option to include in the Games programme in their countries a select few sports that may be of great interest to the local populace. This is likely to be first tried in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020. Already the IOC Executive Board has approved the inclusion of karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing and baseball/softball, as proposed by the host Organising Committee. The decision would no doubt receive full support at the IOC Session scheduled for Rio, 1 – 3 August 2016.
Unfortunately, the likes of squash and netball remain on the fringes hoping to one day attract the attention of the decision-makers at the IOC.
In the post Olympic Agenda 2020 era it would appear that for the IOC the general appeal to global youth is being considered the major criteria. However, there remain those who would continue to raise concerns as to whether this is in fact the case.
Cricket and the Olympic Games
Because of the fact that the Olympic Games constitute sport’s greatest global showcase, cricket has shown increasing interest in getting on to the Games’ programme. The sport has a very strong desire to be on the world stage alongside other sports.
Over the past several decades cricket has been seeking to expand into countries that have never played the game before. We have also witnessed several versions of the game being developed to the point where the 20/20 format has become the ideal of both television and patrons anxious to have great excitement at the competition arena while getting a result on each occasion.
20/20 cricket is much like Rugby 7 in that it is decidedly fast-paced and has the capacity to get everyone following the game into a sort of frenetic frenzy even where they are not supporting any particular team engaged in the competition.
There is no doubt that the 20/20 version of cricket would be on interest to the decision-makers at the IOC. However, the International Cricket Council (ICC) may well meet resistance from those other international sport that have a larger membership and more global followership.
There are now several cautionary measures being urged for the ICC in its quest to join the Olympics. Some have been pointing to the decision of many of the world’s top golfers to withdraw from the Olympics in Rio. Most of them have dropped off very late, leaving the IOC, the host city and ticket holders all in a major quandary.
The comments coming from Rory Mc Ilroy, one of the world’s top golfers, is very disconcerting. He seems to suggest that the Games hold no real interest for him. He has greater interest in winning majors which essentially translates into playing for huge financial purses rather than the glory of becoming an Olympic champion.
Mc Ilroy’s comments raise the critical issue of whether today’s leading professional athletes have any genuine interest in the Olympics which continue to promote the values of Olympism ahead of anything else.
While many have cited the zika virus as the reason for their withdrawal from the Games or lack of interest in this year’s edition of the big event, it remains questionable whether they are telling the truth.
We must ponder whether the basketball players of the USA who have withdrawn are not very much like their golf counterparts. Are they all very happy that zika can be made the fall guy in this instance?
We may also ponder whether cricket would not suffer the same fate as gold this time around. National teams around the cricketing world find immense difficulty getting their players to focus on national representation as a matter of national pride as against their keen interest in playing in different tournaments around the world, all year, in pursuit of cash rewards.