POSTED: July 20th 2014

NEIL WILSON: An Olympic cull in the offing

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

(SFC) Many years ago a young Briton wishing to emulate his Olympic champion brother sized up each sport for the ease of making the national team. He decided on luge.

Britain had no luge track, so almost no lugers. In fact, you could count them on the fingers of one hand.
Inside a single Olympiad, even though he had never previously been on a luge, he qualified for the Winter Olympic team. He went on to compete without great distinction at three Games.

There are a multitude of events within the Olympic programme like luge. Bob skeleton is another. How many people throw hammers? How many outside Kenya steeplechase? Or outside Japan ride in keiren?

This month IOC President Thomas Bach's Agenda 2020 moved another stage further to the overhaul of the Olympic Games. A group of 16 very senior stakeholders backed various changes to be put to an extraordinary IOC session in December in Monaco.

Among them were a possible Olympic TV channel and the simplifying of Olympic host city bidding. But from the Olympic athlete's viewpoint the most threatening may be support for an event-led programme.

That would mean more flexibility for sports. So the IOC members would not be called upon to axe a sport but within its own programme an Olympic sport could change or be changed. The condition would be that the total athletes overall would not increase beyond former president Jacques Rogge's chosen maximum of 10,500.

It has always seemed unreasonable to me, even as a devotee of track and field, that it is allowed three competitors per event when most sports are permitted only one. And that is has more than forty events when few other sports have more than ten.

At the same time it is hard to justify some events within other sports where only a handful of people around the world play them. Luge is one example.

So the IOC, for example,could in future get rid of cycling's Madison because too few participate in it and replace it with a squash tournament. Easier for them than to persuade the membership to get rid of an entire sport.

And if a few of these unfashionable events are culled across the board, others in vogue could be introduced. Flexibility would be the advantage for the IOC. Who could argue with that.

I have voiced the opinion before that if track and field was restricted to two per event like swimming it would release hundreds of 'spare' places to other sports.

We would not need to have argue nets for years over the merits of squash, softball and karate. There would be room for all within the 10,500 limit.

Bach's first year as president may yet turn out to be momentous. Change is in the air, and the Olympics will be all the better for it.

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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