Dom Joly: Hang on to your joysticks for Olympics with video games
Trackside and Trigger Happy: The skills needed to get to the top level in Call of Duty 4 are far superior to those required of an air pistol "athlete"
Saturday 16 August 2008
These are my very first Olympics and overall I'm absolutely blown away by the whole thing. It's the sheer scale of the operation that defies belief. Sometimes, when I'm rushing between venues I do wonder whether it hasn't all got a little bit out of hand. There are certain events here that just don't feel ... right – they don't feel Olympian somehow, but it's an intangible thing. Football and tennis are two that immediately spring to mind but I thought I was just being unfair. Then I shared a scary Beijing taxi to a BBC studio with Steve Backley, the formidable ex-javelin thrower. He summed the whole conundrum up perfectly. In his view, nothing should be at the Olympics if being there doesn't represent the pinnacle of their sport. He was bang on. Overpaid footballers and spoilt tennis stars have enough glory moments for themselves – an Olympic medal is just another gong to stash in their trophy cribs.
The "Backley Theory", as I now call it, doesn't quite solve all my concerns. It doesn't explain why some top international sports are in the Games and others aren't. If you're going to have tennis and football, then why not golf and cricket? Both used to be – cricket was in the Paris Olympics of 1900 and consisted of two teams – England and France. The French team was made up almost exclusively of diplomats from the British embassy. Golf was also an Olympic sport but was discontinued in 1904.
Also, why are quirkier events such as beach volleyball or synchronised swimming eligible when others are not? How about skateboarding, waterskiing ... even dodgeball? God, I love dodgeball – now there's a fun spectator sport.
The Winter Olympics seem to be a lot hipper than their summer cousins. The half-pipe, trick skiing, hot-dogging etc are now part and parcel of the whole thing. Such gnarly activity would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago, but there is no equivalent in Beijing. Well, maybe one – BMX, the only new sport allowed into these Olympics (fortunately for GB we're favourites), and not one was allowed into Athens. Baseball and softball have been eliminated from 2012 onwards (at least they got that right – thank the Lord, how dull are they?) but nothing else has been discarded since 1936 when they discontinued polo.
So what makes something eligible to be included in the Games? The rules state that "to be added to the Summer Olympics, a sport or discipline must be widely practised by men in at least 75 countries on four continents and by women in at least 40 countries on three continents".
Well, with that criterion in mind – how about they crack on and add some new stuff like paintball, table football or video gaming?
I love table football and that's got to be as exciting to watch as table tennis. It might even be a football tournament we could qualify for.
And I'm not joking about video gaming either – with the advent of online gaming, hundreds of millions of people are already involved in vast virtual worldwide competitions and the possibilities for games are endless. What big difference is there between someone squeezing the trigger on an air pistol and a button on their joystick?
I would even venture that the skills and training needed to get to the top level in a video game like, say Call of Duty 4 are far superior to those required of an air pistol "athlete".
OK, I'm a little biased on Call of Duty 4 because I play it a lot and it has a really freaky thing that allows you to see how much of your life you have spent playing (sorry ... training) on it – I've currently spent 23 entire days of my life on it (that's 552 hours last year alone).
My overall point, however, is a serious one: why not have video games in the Olympics? They are all about intensive practice, extreme hand-eye co-ordination, extreme competition and they just happen to be unbelievably popular.
I think it's time that the International Olympic Committee really took a big, brave step and did a bit of culling around the edges, using the "Backley Theory", of the spoilt big-money sports. Keep the Olympic core of track and field, swimming and gymnastics, and then get really adventurous around the fringes.
Maybe they should be opened up to a vote. I, for one, am going to get some serious training in on Call of Duty 4 when I get back from Beijing. You never know what might happen at 2012. I might just get that call telling me that my country needs me and don't worry ... I'll be ready.
While we're at it – one of the things that the Olympics has really made me rethink is whether we shouldn't be represented internationally in all sports as Great Britain rather than as our individual home countries. Aren't we just further weakening our chances of international success unnecessarily?
I'd understand it if we never, ever did it, but in the Olympics we all compete under one flag (even grumpy Scot Andy Murray), so why can't we do it for everything else?
To be GB or not to be GB? That is the eternal question
While we're at it – one of the things that the Olympics has really made me rethink is whether we shouldn't be represented internationally in all sports as Great Britain rather than as our individual home countries.
Aren't we just further weakening out chances of international success unnecessarily?
Aren't Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England just three countries too many?
I'd understand it if we never, ever did it, but in the Olympics we all compete under one flag (even grumpy Scot Andy Murray), so why can't we do if for everything else?
Beginning of the end – again
One of the real joys of being out in the smog in Beijing is that I can avoid the beginning of the Premier League. I'm really not big on football, so this is always a sad time for me. It means that the dark nights of winter approach and cricket is coming to an end... Boo Hoo, Boo Hoo.
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