The future of many traditional and well established events at future Olympic Games seems to have been left in doubt, as a result of new rules that have been agreed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The rules will in effect allow additional sports to be incorporated into the Olympic programme, by providing further flexibility for the host countries in their determination of which sports and which events within those sports to include in the Games they produce. During a two-day IOC meeting in Monaco, they decided to drop plans for a 28-sport limit, instead voting for a cap on the number of competitors and events that each Olympics can allow for.  

The IOC have acted in response to calls to be more reflective of the sports and pastimes that are now favoured and hence have greater appeal to young people, such as surfing. In truth, they have a waiting list of sports vying to be found a place for in the Games and not all can be left satisfied by their decision, however hard they try to accommodate all sports in some shape or form. In principle it would seem a sensible decision as the purpose of the Olympic movement has always been to encourage sporting endeavour by the youth of the current day, so in order to ensure that they deliver on that commitment then the programme of events should be an up to date reflection of the sports being participated in. The Olympics is the ultimate stage on which athletes from all sports can demonstrate their abilities to a global audience. The ‘sticking point’ with the notion of expanding the events to be showcased in the Games is the cap on the number of athletes at 10,500 in total and for a maximum of 310 events across all of the sports included. It is believed that the competitor limit will result in mounting pressure to make reductions in some of the sports where there are a plethora of existing events included, with the obvious ‘targets’ being such as track and field (Athletics) and swimming.

Some events are already being brought into the discussions on what to ‘axe’ with Canada’s IOC member, Dick Pound putting the case for the triple jump , synchronised swimming and race-walking to be removed. That is sure to raise the emotions of many an aspiring and developing young athlete currently participating in those sports with dreams of future glory and if actioned could see take up rates diminish as a result in those sports. The counter argument would of course be that in order to encourage participation in those sports currently not in the Olympic programme, the ‘carrot’ of potential future inclusion could be a godsend to them instead.

The man behind the wonderful Olympics in London in 2012, Sebastian Coe, who is head of the British Olympic Association and vice-president of the IAAF, was clearly not in agreement with Mr Pound’s thoughts, as he responded by saying that the “..triple jump is a sacrosanct sport in track and field” and he also defended the right for race-walking to maintain its position. He did however agree with the conclusion that there would be pressure to see where cuts could be made as not every sport can be found a place for, so if new sports come in then others will have to drop out as a consequence. Currently, athletics is right at the centre of the Olympics’ extravaganza every four years, with most of its events being held in the main stadium and given prime time television slots for many of its 47 disciplines, giving participation for around a fifth of the total number of sportspeople at any Games. From a current position of strength, the sport of athletics will need to ensure that it continues to fight its case for all of the current events to be continued in the Olympic programme, but one wonders how the continued revelations around doping in the sport in recent years will effect that apparent powerbase, as some IOC members like Mr Pound may well see the opportunity for other less tarnished sports to get their chance instead.

It would be a shame though for the popular “hop, skip and jump” to be removed, denying the public from seeing the elegance of such as the next Jonathan Edwards, whose prodigious distances rank alongside the iconic images from past Games. Other sports do deserve their chance if a sufficiently well balanced case can be put for them to come in and other sports be removed, but the debates around how this should be managed in a fair and equitable way will no doubt rage on for a while yet before a final decision is made.

There would be a precedent for seemingly established events to be removed, as Track cycling knows all too well, with Olympic champion Chris Boardman’s individual pursuit being one of those events subsequently removed. Indeed the programme has been constantly tweaked over the years with such as rugby and golf now being brought into the fold for Rio in 2016 after many years of exclusion, and some sports such as wrestling (removed from the core list of sports in 2013 only to be voted back on later that same year) enjoy something of a ‘yo-yo’ existence at the Summer Olympics.

No further changes will be made to the Rio programme as a result of the new rules, but it is possible that both baseball and softball could be found a place for at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, given that both sports are popular with the Japanese nation. Other sports such as squash, which proved a revelation at the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, may also fancy their chances in the near future.
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