POSTED: January 10th 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: The Summer Olympics need to be held over more days

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

(SFC)  Fifa has this week changed the structure of the World Cup, which together with the Summer Olympics, is the most popular international sports event in terms of global reach and interest.

From 2026, the quadrennial tournament is to be expanded to 48 participating countries, as opposed to the 32, who will take part in the final stages in Russia next year. There are two good reasons for this change, which was agreed in Zurich, Switzerland this week. It will allow more nations to have their hours of glory in the competition, for which teams will still have to qualify, and it is estimated that it will bring in nearly $ 600 million more in revenue.

Just how the event will be held in terms of staging the matches and the allocation of extra places round the world has yet to be determined. But the competition will still be held over the same length of time, 32 days, as in Russia next year.

 In Qatar, so controversially chosen for the 2022 World Cup, will be held in the run-up to Christmas, a period which would usually clash with the European domestic leagues and pan-European competitions. The tournament will therefore last only 28 days, so as to appease, at least partially,  the clubs on that continent.

What has always been particularly striking is how many days the World Cup is held when one compares it with the Summer Olympics, 16 days of actual sport. Maybe, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should look at expanding the Summer Games, which, at least for some people, has the immediately entrancing attraction of being able to see so much elite sport, only to end up with the sensation of satiety. It is like having two Michelin-starred meals every day so that by the end of the fortnight, one is simply not appreciating the quality of the food on offer.

For me, the Games have always been too compressed and there are clearly advantages in adding a few extra days so giving extra exposure to the Olympic sports. Certainly the international federations would be in favour because at the moment, too many of the sports are scarcely in the limelight (in what for almost all of them is the most important event on their calendar) because other activities are going on at the same time.

The sponsors, too, would benefit because the Games would be staged over more days, thus giving them more exposure. The host city would surely be in favour because it would allow in certain cases, especially the indoor sports, the same venues to be used for several sports, as already occurs in certain cases. This would save them money.

It would also allow more competitors to take part in more events. For instance, in athletics, by giving a longer gap between the 10,000 metres and the marathon, more men and women could compete in both, with the potential to create more heroes and heroines.

 When I suggested a longer programme to Dr Jacques Rogge, then the IOC President, about 10 years ago, he had two objections. The first was that whereas the volunteers could take off a fortnight from their jobs or other activities, it would be difficult for them to take more. I don't buy this. Volunteers could work in shifts, so allowing them to watch various sports when they were not working. And some host cities already have a vast surplus of people, eager to volunteer who at the moment don't get selected.

The other objection was that NBC, the biggest paymaster of the Games, wants a packed schedule for their American viewers and would object to any lengthening and so dilution of the Olympic programme. Perhaps.

 But it would no harm to try to persuade the U.S. network otherwise, because it would surely benefit the Olympic Movement if there were any extra couple of days of sport. And some other TV channels in other countries might even be prepared to pay more for more days of coverage. The idea is certainly worth considering.

** JOHN GOODBODY will cover the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th 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.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications

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