POSTED: February 18th 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: The IOC must ensure dangerous sports are kept within reasonable bounds

Sochi 2014 Olympic Park / Sochi 2014
Sochi 2014 Olympic Park / Sochi 2014

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications     

(SFC) Many sports, by their very nature, can be dangerous. But what has happened at the Winter Olympics  has questioned whether some of the events and particularly in Sochi some of the facilities for those events are too hazardous.

British halfpipe skier Rowan Cheshire suffered concussion after a fall in training and has had to withdraw from competition. In the snowboard cross event, American Jacqueline Hernandez was knocked out unconscious, while in the ski cross event, Russian Maria Komissarova broke her spine and underwent a six-hour operation, an incident that was sufficiently disturbing for Vladimir Putin to visit her in hospital.

Since these last two athletes were using the same course, it was inevitable that there were questions about both the sports and venue. This is the same venue, where Shaun White, the world’s most lauded snowboarder, pulled out of the Olympics last week saying that the jumps were too large.

Another British snowboarder, Zoe Gillings, whose feet were so badly damaged in previous accidents that they were termed as being like“cornflakes,” has said:”You have to make it challenging and look good on TV. Gradually the jumps have got bigger and when you race there’s so much to think about technically—where the other girls are, the fact you are hurtling down the course at 50 mph (80kmh) and going off on massive jumps—that the danger does not fit into your brain.”

There is no doubt that snowboarding is particularly hazardous. Four years ago, an inquiry, commissioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), discovered that of all the sports, snowboarding had the worst record for injuries with about 35 percent of athletes getting hurt. Curiously enough, luge had the second safest record, although it was in this event that Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed in training in Vancouver.  

Critics in Sochi have said that it was ill-advised to raise the number of competitors in each snowboarding race from four to six because this increases the chances of collisions as the competitors battle for the medals.

Mark Adams, the IOC director of communications, has emphasised that “health and safety of the athletes is our No.1 priority.” In that case, it should think again about following  the policy of the winter X games, where six competitors do take part.

The IOC should rise above copying the Winter X Games. As the guardians of Olympic sports, it needs to ensure that what it proclaims as its No.1 prioirity is indeed what it actually does. There are many sports on the Olympic programme, both summer and winter, where danger is involved. High or platform diving being a particular example and one recalls the courage of the American gold medallist Greg Louganis when he struck his head on the board in the 1988 Games.

However, it is the role of the IOC to make certain that, as far as possible, the athletes are saved from themselves  and that a very careful watch is carried out on all activities to make certain that particular moves or events are not becoming too hazardous. Confronting danger and watching people confront danger is an inevitable part of the attraction of many sports, including those in the Olympics. It is just important that this does not exceed what is reasonable. The IOC has a duty of care.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · IOC · Winter Games · John Goodbody

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