Back in 2005, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unceremoniously booted baseball and softball off the Olympic program, meaning that both sports made their final scheduled appearance in Beijing four years ago. Earlier this week, the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and International Softball Federation (ISF) decided to merge, hoping to make the IOC's decision on the sports' places in future games, most likely starting in 2020, a bit easier.
I could drone on specifically about why baseball and softball should be back in the Olympics, but I'd rather focus on a different approach to building the Games' lineup. Now this is something I briefly touched on over at SB Nationback when golf and rugby sevens were added to the program for Rio 2016. That was three years ago, so I figured it was time to rehash that idea with a bit more supporting information. Follow me after the jump for more.
Before reading any further you need to clear your mind of the definition of the word "sport" that you know and love. (Perhaps you need to go back to your Kindergarten or Grade 1 memory bank to do this.) In the Olympics, the concept has a significantly different meaning, one that directly relates to why the IBAF and ISF elected to merge. According to the Olympic Charter, a "sport" is a group of athletic endeavors governed by a single International Federation (IF). An IF can then run the competitions for various disciplines of the "sport," even though they may be only tangentially related. In the Summer Games, the most obvious example of this is Aquatics, governed by the International Swimming Federation (FINA). FINA has several different disciplines on the Olympic program -- swimming (naturally), diving, water polo, and synchronized swimming -- but the combination counts as a single sport.
London 2012 features 26 sports, but (now go back and remember the traditional definition of "sport") you could say there are actually 33. In four years time, that number jumps to 28 sports (35 disciplines) when golf and rubgy sevens debut. It's simply easier for an IF to add new disciplines than for a new sport to be added period. For example, Cycling added BMX and Mountain Biking; Volleyball added the beach variety; and, most radically, Gymnastics took over Trampoline from its previously independent federation. Basketball's FIBA may try this in the future with the 3-on-3 variety of the sport. In short, the IBAF/ISF merger means the IOC would get two sports for the price of one, should they elect to bring baseball and softball back.
Complicating matters is the presence of a very large group of "sports" (keeping the IOC's definition) that the Committee recognizes -- since it recognizes their respective IFs -- that will have a hard time making it to future Olympics. This list is actually a bit longer than the list of Olympic sports, standing at 35 (31, if you exclude golf and rugby sevens and combine baseball and softball). Several of these have demonstrated worldwide appeal, like auto racing (Olympic Formula 1 anyone?), bowling, and chess. Others are more popular in some parts of the world than others -- baseball/softball, cricket, and netball. While there are a few on the list that may be a bit difficult for some Olympic hosts to include logistically -- mountaineering/climbing, surfing, and underwater sports.
Every so often, when the Olympic program comes under review all of these sports' IFs lobby the IOC for inclusion, with most losing out because of the popularity, both in terms of participation and viewership, of events currently on the program. That leaves them on the program of the less well-known World Games (which is for all intents and purposes the Olympics of non-Olympic sports).
Yet, there is another way -- a course of action that takes matters out of the IOC's hands, makes each host city's lineup unique, and may even result in a small amount of cost savings. In the Universiade (or World University Games, since I'm talking about events that receive little exposure in North America), there is a list of required sports, which includes all of the events you'd expect to see at a global event -- track and field, swimming, basketball, gymnastics, soccer, and so on; however, host cities are able to add a limited number of sports, almost always ones that are locally popular, to the lineup. Naturally, this is a necessity to sell tickets for an event that isn't quite at the level of the Olympics, but given that not every event in London (or any Olympics) will be a sellout, perhaps this isn't a terrible thing to try at future Games.
The IOC doesn't even need to do anything all that radical to make this proposal work. It can keep the limit of 28 total sports that will be in place for Rio. Ideally, I'd like to see this bumped to 30, but given how Jacque Rogge wants to cap Summer Games participation at around 10,000, that would be difficult. Of those 28, require 26, the number of sports on the program for London, and allow the host city to pick the final two, much as host cities used to add demonstration and exhibition events up until 1992. Only this time, they would count.
If this proposal had been in place this time around, we could have had golf at St. Andrew's or Royal St. George's (a more likely option since it's in Kent, and far closer to London), cricket at Lord's and the Oval (though it would likely be Twenty20, which doesn't really excite me all that much), or rugby sevens at Twickenham. In four years time, Rio could select a sport befitting a city on the ocean, like surfing, which would have the added benefit of being more cost effective than building a golf course. Sure, none of these "fringe" sports would be guaranteed a permanent place in the Games, but they'd have a fresh chance for inclusion each time around, and the IOC can always update the list of required sports. There will be even more opportunities for IFs to lobby for a place, which admittedly does open the door to shenanigans.
Would you like to see more local flavor in the Olympic lineup? What events do you think should be added, or dropped?
Follow Mr. Dobbertean's Olympic thoughts at his personal Twitter account.