POSTED: April 18th 2018

JOHN GOODBODY: Being an Olympic sport is a Holy Grail, not always possible to get

The SportAccord convention is taking place in Bangkok April 15-20 © SportAccord
The SportAccord convention is taking place in Bangkok April 15-20 © SportAccord

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

(SFC) Almost all sports want to be on the Olympic programme, either at the Summer or Winter Games. The Olympics give status and publicity to sports, as well as income from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), while many individual countries will only fund their national governing bodies if their sports are in the Games.

 Perhaps American Football is the main exception to this truism but then, it would not seriously be considered, since there are simply no other countries with anywhere near the same level of ability, let alone interest, as there is in the United States.

As delegates to the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) have been gathering in Bangkok this week for its annual jamboree of schmoozing and networking, there is always a mixture of envy and resentment that for many of the 92 full members, a place on the Olympic programme still remains beyond them, even if they have IOC recognition.

One of the more enlightened decisions during the IOC presidency of Dr. Thomas Bach has been the flexibility of the programme. This has allowed more sports to be included, as we shall have for 2020, while still restricting the numbers of competitors to 10,500. More women's events have also been added to level up the numbers of both sexes.

The fact that the IOC is open to changes, together with the chosen host cities, is all to the good. But this flexibility has encouraged supporters and officials of some sports to claim that they should be in the Games, citing its popularity and the number of people taking part across the world.

What many of these advocates refuse to see, possibly deliberately, is the global perspective. One of the latest calls, much aired in the English media, is for netball to be included in the Games. This has followed the victory last week-end of the England team over Australia in the Commonwealth Games, the first time this has ever happened in a major tournament.

The excitement of the game, wonderfully won by a single point in the last seconds, has caused some people to believe that it should be on the Olympic programme. At least Clare Briegal, the chief executive of the International Netball Federation, had the sense to tell The Times of London that although it was an ambition "it was a stretch target and we are not that close at the moment."

Netball originally derived from early versions of basketball in the 1890s and was later developed in Britain, where it remains probably the most widely practised game for girls, partly because it can be played indoors or out, hard surfaces or soft, and with relatively little equipment.

However, its international development has been almost entirely in the Commonwealth, particularly in Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the West Indies. It is true that about 60 countries have teams but the dominance of the Commonwealth nations will be shown at the World Cup in Liverpool next year.

And whereas basketball is played by both men and women and after football is the world's most popular game, netball, despite efforts to change, is almost exclusively played only by females. And the IOC looks at prospective sports for their "universality and gender balance." Netball fails on both counts, although it has been recognised by the IOC since 1995.

There are many sports, jostling for a place on the Olympic programme, all advocating their unique qualities. But many of them should not be resentful and realise that sports that are often extremely popular in a few countries are virtually unknown in many others. The officials should develop their sports and not be too eager to be embraced by the Olympics. Their turn may well come in due course.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered 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.

Keywords · John Goodbody · Olympics

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