There was a report in a 1963 edition of The Onion where Frank Sinatra was quoted as telling the Russkies to just “knock it off”. In other comments, Ol’ Blue Eyes described Premier Khrushchev as a “world-class knucklehead” and gave him 24 hours to “drop this commie bunk or it’s ring-a-ding-ding for you bozos”. Crude stuff, admittedly, but sometimes niceties have to be dropped. It is long past time that somebody of similar stature in this era said the exact same to the International Olympic Committee. Perhaps a Robert Downey, Jr., a Kanye West or a Russell Crowe could make such an intervention. Maybe if Sylvester Stallone could be persuaded this was a mission worthy of Rambo, he might oblige.
The reason action is necessary is because the IOC is contemplating extending the range of sports to feature in their bloated, jingoistic, city-bankrupting and frequently corrupt circuses. Among the 26 hopefuls are air sports, dance sport, floorball, flying disc, korfball, roller sports, underwater sports, wakeboard and wushu. Now, according to Rule 52 1.1.1 of the Olympic Charter, “only sports widely practised by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents, and by women in at least 40 countries and on three continents, may be included in the programme of the Games of the Olympiad”. Presumably these sports meet those criteria, but if they do, I have to ask myself where I’ve been all these years not to have noticed their popularity. Previously this blog proposed the “Bar in Downtown Tashkent Test”, which was partly motivated out of personal guilt for previously adhering to the heresy of sporting egalitarianism. I do not see many of these applicants passing it.
Whatever their level of participation, it surely offends common decency to require Jim Thorpe, Paavo Nurmi, Jesse Owens, Emil Zatopek and Al Oerter to make room on their pedestals for the practitioners of these activities, several of which are glorified pastimes. It does need acknowledging there are some noble and pure sports among the 26, including a few that I should personally be amenable to supporting. In the case of racquetball and tug of war, there has been serious family involvement over the years. As for orienteering, a sport I dabble in over the winter months, there may not be a greater or more satisfying test of mind and body. So if this thing is going to happen, I know which sports I will be supporting. Though I would still ask why the administrators of these sports are so eager to join this party. It’s an obtuse question on one level, obviously. There is exposure, probably some enhanced levels of participation, and possibly some riches. But is the wellbeing of a sport so dependent on getting a nod from the IOC? A lot of the funding that accompanies Olympic status is channeled to people at the top to enable them to train like professionals, but that is done solely in the service of national chauvinism. To my fellow orienteers, I implore you, you don’t need this.
Currently there is a 28-sport cap, which is obviously being dropped to make space for these exciting new additions. I say the cap shouldn’t merely be retained, but tightened further, with the most reliable rule of thumb being to reject a sport that wasn’t played by the Ancient Greeks. Or a sport the Ancient Greeks would refuse to participate in now? Some current Olympic sports should be either culled entirely or significantly reduced, for one or some combination of the following reasons: (a) the sport already has other more prestigious championships, (b) it’s of very minority interest, or else is only accessible to the few, whether because of privilege, accident of geography, etc., (c) it’s simply not very good and is not meritorious of an exalted status, (d) It just doesn’t belong.
Archery, Beach Volleyball, Canoe Sprint, Cycling – BMX, Dressage, Diving, Football, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Trampolining, Handball, Judo, Sailing, Shooting, Synchronised Swimming, Taekwondo, Table Tennis, Tennis, Volleyball and Water Polo could be jettisoned, and the world would be a better place for it. Other sports are wildly overrepresented. Half of the events in the swimming pool could easily be expunged. Surely the backstroke and butterfly in particular are utterly pointless stokes and should be scrapped – at most left in as part of a medley. Apart from single sculling and the eights, I really can’t see any justification for the ridiculous level of representation rowing has at the Olympics. Rowing has the second highest level of athlete participation after athletics, last time I heard. Ludicrous. Track cycling should be reduced to the individual pursuit and the individual sprint – some laughably ridiculous events have been invented for the velodrome, which no sentient human being could truly regard as worthwhile outlets for human endeavour. One is ambivalent about a number of other sports, but they are tolerable. And naturally, the only team sports should be those that were originally devised to be played by teams, e.g., team show jumping is self-evidently crass.
It needs stating that I am aware of how churlish it must appear to be criticising a festival that brings happiness to so many people. I was an enthusiastic member of the crowd myself at several sporting events during London 2012, and was captivated by the positive atmosphere. More heartwarming than any sporting contest was the friendly and enthusiastic attitude of the so-called “Games Makers”, the volunteers who made the London Olympics special. But that doesn’t mean that everything about the Olympics demands endorsement or blind acquiescence. What it actually indicates is that the kernel of something noble and worthwhile exists within the concept of such a sporting festival.
The Olympics could be better again if the chaff were disposed of. But maybe the dross is an indispensable part of the modern Olympics, because what we fixate on for a few weeks every four years isn’t so much sport’s pinnacle, but a big shiny event. We are interested because it’s a big occasion, and not because of the inherent merit of what we are watching. Should we then simply sit back and enjoy it, for all its skewed priorities, its artifice, its essential contrivance? Because modern day sporting organisations have a growth agenda that dictates how competitions are configured, and the modern day public by and large will dutifully consume. In this regime, the crank, such as this writer, is safely ignored.