POSTED: June 5th 2013

NEIL WILSON: A more creative approach to accomodating new Olympic sports

Wrestling got back on the shortlist of potential sports at the IOC executive board meeting at SportAccord / Alexander Oreshnikov
Wrestling got back on the shortlist of potential sports at the IOC executive board meeting at SportAccord / Alexander Oreshnikov

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Only one sport can be added to the programme of the 2020 Olympic Games because IOC president Jacques Rogge persuaded members to limit it to 28 sports for all time. Since the one may well be wrestling which has been present at all but one Games since ancient times vibrant new sports that appeal to modern youth will continue to be excluded.

Denis Oswald, one of six candidates to succeed Rogge in September, thinks he has a solution. A more creative approach he called it when he spelled out his presidential ambitions. In short, he believes that more sports can be accommodated not by excluding present sports but by restricting their events.

He suggests that those where four or five nations “usually win the medals” might be culled. In addition, he declared, “keep only the events which are universal."

Perhaps Oswald would like to begin the cleaning of the Augean stables at home. Rowing could do with it. In London 22 of the 42 medals were won by four countries. Only 10 competitors in the 2012 rowing regatta came from the continent of Africa, less than two per cent. Only 19 came from South America. So rowing is hardly universal.

Of the 550 rowers, two fifths came from just five countries and 128 came for the eights to represent just 15 countries. All but two of them made the men’s final and all but one the women’s. So not universal and not competitive.

Cutting out the eights from the rowing programme would open up enough places to accommodate a complete new sport. Squash requires only 64 for its men’s and women’s competition.

Oswald may not wish to dirty his own door-step, so where else could he find candidates for cleansing using his own criteria of universality and competitiveness? Table tennis is utterly dominated by one nation, China. It won half the medals in 2012, two thirds in 2008. The same is true of badminton. China won more than half in 2008, and, with Denmark, two  thirds in 2012.

Four nations won 18 of 30 medals in track cycling in London. Three nations won 17 of 22 in equestrian events, and three won 22 of 42 in artistic gymnastics. In swimming four nations won almost two thirds of the medals.

Swimming, surely, could find slack to cut. The fact that one man could win eight golds in 2008 – and six again in 2012 – suggests to outsiders that the events are too similar.

Athletics, under Oswald’s criteria, could shed the steeplechase. The men’s event is so completely dominated by one country that it has become a national championships for Kenya in recent Games.

But I offer a more creative approach to Oswald. Why not ask track and field to agree to a maximum of two per event, instead of three. That would comfortably accommodate both squash and wrestling, and he would lose only the vote of one IOC member for his election, the president of IAAF, Lamine Diack.

No doubt he would be voting in any case for Oswald’s rival Sergey Bubka, so it would be win-win.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · IOC · Olympics ·

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