POSTED: December 11th 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: IOC faces problems over Games programme

Agenda 2020 opened the door for changes to the Games / Bigstock
Agenda 2020 opened the door for changes to the Games / Bigstock

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

(SFC) The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to lift the cap on the number of sports for the Summer Games programme may well be welcome but it immediately raises difficulties with the international federations, who will fight to maintain their number of events.

As the 127th IOC Session broke up in Monte Carlo, the President Dr. Thomas Bach was understandably delighted that Olympic Agenda 2020 was passed unanimously and even with remarkably little discussion.

But as the federations dispersed, their representatives must have been wondering what pressure will be put on them now that the current limit of 28 sports can be breached at future Summer Games, beginning with Tokyo in 2020. With the limit on the number of competitors remaining at 10,500 and the number of events at 310, something has to give.

Immediately there has been the call for such sports as squash, narrowly beaten in trying to join the Olympic programme for 2020, baseball/softball, immensely popular in Japan, and karate, whose very name shows where it was developed, should be staged in Tokyo in six years’ time.

What events will make way for them? Dick Pound, a long-time IOC figure with pronounced views, suggested that perhaps the triple jump and synchronised swimming should go, while another former swimmer, David Wilkie, the 1976 Olympic 200 metres breaststroke champion, said that he thought that synchronised diving and some of the freestyle races could be axed.

Initially, the IOC could well look at those sports, of which swimming is one, where individual competitors can win a large number of medals, suggesting that there is not sufficient variety in ability to warrant all those events. In freestyle, there is 50 metres, only introduced to the programme for men and women in 1988, the 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres and 1500 metres and also two relays 4x100 metres and 4 x 200 metres as well as the open water races. Certainly one could envisage at least one of those relays, probably the 4x200 metres, going.  After all, there are 34 events on the swimming programme and some trimming is appropriate.

Artistic Gymnastics is another sport, where competitors pile up a large number of medals. There are eight different events for men and six for women, both of which include a team competition. And it is quite common for the same gymnasts to figure in all of those disciplines.

There are two problems in cutting the number of events in both swimming and gymnastics. The first is that you don’t actually reduce very greatly the number of competitors because so many of them take part in several events and the second is that both get some of the highest television ratings across the world, especially in the United States, where NBC remains easily the most important TV company financially for the Olympic Movement.

The IOC possibly may look at eliminating one of the men’s walks, either the 20 kms or 50 kms events, shaving one race out of the rowing regatta –where there a total 14 events and few oarsmen or women double up -- and further restricting the number of competitors entering sports such as wrestling, weightlifting, judo, boxing and taekwondo.

Much will depend on the wishes of the host city and whether, Tokyo for instance wants to have any extra sports and how many extra athletes that would entail. Baseball and softball may only be two events as such but because they are team sports that automatically brings with them a large number of competitors.

It will be intriguing to see how the IOC and host cities manage to solve what is likely to be a long-running problem in the years to come.

** 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 · John Goodbody · Olympics · IOC · Thomas Bach

For more information contact:
Laura Walden ()

All original materials contained in this section are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Sports Features Communications, Inc the owner of that content. It is prohibited to alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.