Wakeboarding, squash and Wushu... it's the weird and wonderful battle for a place at the 2020 Olympics
As eight sports make bids to IOC to join the Games, Robin Scott-Elliot analyses their prospects
Tuesday 28 May 2013
Motor boating, croquet, cricket and polo have all been there and had the T-shirt torn off them. Golf and rugby have it back after a lengthy absence. Tomorrow on Vasilievsky Island in St Petersburg representatives from eclectic, and frankly surprising, sports bid to gain entry to one of the most coveted clubs in the game.
Each will pitch to the International Olympic Committee's executive, who will whittle their number down to three – the shortlist to become an Olympic sport from 2020. For the seven wannabes and wrestling, forced to reapply for its place in the greatest show on earth, it is crucial for their well-being. Gaining a place among the 27 that currently have a home in the Olympics has become a passport to a more lucrative future but the sports have to meet a list of 39 criteria, divided into eight categories, to earn approval: general, governance, history and tradition, universality, popularity, athletes, development and finance. Once the IOC has chosen its shortlist the 205 member nations will settle the matter with a vote in Buenos Aires in September. These are the sports competing:
Case for: The two have linked arms beneath one governance umbrella to satisfy the IOC. They claim a global participation of 65m, all watched by more than a billion fans. Big numbers impress the IOC. "Baseball and softball can become the next great global game," said Don Porter, co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation.
Case against: Baseball was thrown out of the Games after 2008 in part because none of the leading Major League Baseball players took part. Bud Selig, MLB's commissioner, has already stated a mid-season break is a no-goer – which means MLB players remain unlikely to take part.
Well I never: The bid is supported by Antonio Castro, son of Fidel and a doctor to Cuba's Olympic team, who flew the flag for the sport in London last week.
Chances: ** (out of 5)
Case for: "The K is on the way" goes the bid slogan and not for the first time. Karate came close to being voted in in 2005 and 2009 and the IOC likes commitment to the cause. A fast and furious sport, participants can kick and punch, it makes for good viewing. Well established in Europe and the Far East.
Case against: With judo and taekwondo already sitting snugly within the Olympic programme, the IOC will take some convincing that a third martial art should be added.
Well I never: At the IOC session in 2005 karate received more than half the votes but not the two-thirds majority required.
Case for: Cycling without bikes, or speed skating without ice. Proponents play on the speed, thrills and spills – as with speed skating it is a hair-raisingly unpredictable sport, one slip and an entire field can be floored. It also claims to appeal to young people, a big tick in the IOC's criteria box.Has five distances, from 300m to 15km.
Case against: In effect cycling without bikes, or speed skating without ice – and both are already in the Olympics.
Well I never: Big in Belgium – the wonderfully named Bart Swings is a multiple world champion and at 22 is young enough to still have his skates on come 2020.
Case for: Something completely different, and something that will appeal to a younger audience – both notions could turn IOC heads. Will be a multi-discipline event combining speed climbing, lead climbing and bouldering on man-made walls in what is in effect a climbing triathlon.
Case against: A newcomer – the sport's federation has only been in existence for five years. Extreme sports may not find wide favour among IOC members, while it may also lack the universality and participation numbers.
Well I never: The sport will make their pitch for Olympic recognition on the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Mt Everest
Case for: A strong campaign and they have been here before, coming close four years ago. Simplicity is key, it's a straightforward racquet sport with a global reach – the bid makes a play of having staged world championships in five continents – and its proposed format is 32 men and 32 women play a straightforward knockout. The scoring system has been simplified and games will be played in glass-walled courts to improve TV coverage.
Case against: The previous bid was scuppered by IOC concerns that it did not televise well, which remains a potential issue as does the appetite for another racquet sport.
Well I never: Jahangir Khan, the game's greatest player, won 555 consecutive matches in the 1980s – all helped by a diet that included a strict two glasses of milk a day.
Case for: This is, according to the bid, a "youth focused lifestyle discipline". In practice it is cable wakeboarding – competitors are connected to an overhead cable that tugs them around a lake. Participants use the cable to flip out of the water and perform tricks which are judged. It is snowboarding on water. It would bring something completely new and possibly a new audience with it.
Case against: Possibly too far out there for the IOC's tastes and does not have a global reach to match that of its competitors.
Well I never: Britain has one of the current stars, Kirsteen Mitchell, a former zoology student, who has won world and European titles.
Case for: Wushu – or kung fu as it is better known here – is supported by the Chinese and that carries clout within IOC circles. It puts a big tick in the history and tradition box – its governing body claim it has been around for 5,000 years. The bid is based around the taolu discipline, which includes ceremonial use of weapons such as spears, cudgels and swords. Competitors perform routines for which they are judged.
Case against: As with karate the presence of two other martial arts already in the Games will not help its cause. Its lack of global status as a competitive sport may also limit its appeal.
Well I never: Beijing staged a parallel wushu tournament at the 2008 Games with competitors allowed to stay in the Olympic village
Case for: It has been part of the Games since 1904 and was stunned to be cut in February. The governing body, Fila, responded rapidly by ousting its president and suggesting a raft of changes – including (male) wrestlers fighting topless – in an attempt to answer the IOC's criticisms and broaden the sport's appeal. The US, Iran and Russia – the sport's powerhouses – have formed an improbable alliance to reclaim its place.
Case against: It would be an abrupt U-turn by the IOC to give a sport the boot in February only to vote for its return four months later.
Well I never: The longest bout in Olympic history came in 1912 when Max Klein and Alppo Asikainen fought for 11 hours. Klein won the semi-final but was too exhausted to fight in the final.
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