Olympics 5-Point Plan: Point 5

So far I’ve suggested that the Olympics:

  • disregard nationalities
  • award more medals for each event, possibly 8.
  • reduce the chances of multiple medaling
  • favor objectively measured sport
  • include only the sports for which the Olympics is the pinnacle

The final point concerns team sports. With nationalities out of the picture then the composition of teams will also be on a non-national basis. Will that be so difficult?

Certainly where the team has just the two members, for example, doubles tennis and beach volleyball, these sports already have mixed nationalities competing together, for tennis it’s the norm, no-one cares. This is the way it should be. In fact for pairs skating we sometimes see the ridiculous situation of individuals changing nationality in order to skate with their chosen partner. Taking nationalities out of the equation would seem to be only natural.

In many other cases the team event is simply an amalgamation of individual scores, as in gymnastics. These are not true team events and should be scrapped.

But this leaves a number of team sports with a history of national teams, like hockey, handball, basketball, football. As mentioned in Point 4 I feel that sports for which the Olympics is not the pinnacle, and is merely another event clogging up the calendar, should not be in the Olympics. This is obviously true of basketball and football. I can see an argument for women’s football, where the Olympics is a very high priority, but the women’s World Cup is getting massive.

For the few remaining team sports I concede there will need to be different solutions for different sports. Perhaps the sport has well-established clubs, so that would be an obvious answer, or perhaps the existing associations could send representative teams, but nationality would not be the deciding factor.

The question arises of whether the Olympics needs change. There is no doubt that it has changed considerably since 1896, and it will either change or stagnate. No change is not an option. The debate must be how much change.

I have suggested some radical proposals which I believe would slim down the Olympics (making it more affordable for a wider range of host cities), would make the Olympics fairer, would have the effect of reducing the incidence of doping and would also make the Olympics even more of a spectacle in which the spectators will better appreciate the wonder of sport. Looks like progress to me.

Olympics 5-Point Plan: Point 4, part two

Point 4 deals with the sports that are included in the Olympics.

The previous article was concerned with the problems of subjectively judged sports, and their non-comformance with the Olympic ideals.

Now to look at the spread of sports in more detail.

The Olympics should be the pinnacle of the sport. Is this such a wild thought? Doesn’t everyone want to win an Olympic gold above all else? Well, no, not really. There are some sports, all of them professional I believe, which already have their own traditional world cup, or world championship, that is so traditional and ingrained into the sport’s history that any Olympic participation would be no more than another event on the calendar. Football, tennis, basketball, and even baseball would come into this category. For this reason I feel the Olympics is not suitable for these sports.

However for most of the existing sports the Olympic title remains the one that everyone wants. It has even got to the point with some sports, like handball, fencing and archery where the sports would drastically fade in popularity if they were not an Olympic sport.

To summarise I believe that only sports where the Olympics is considered the crowning glory should be included, and this should be a priority criterion when considering adding extra sports, along with the consideration from the previous article that objectively measured sports should be preferred over sports with subjectively judged performances.

Olympics 5-point Plan: Point 4, part one

Citius, Altius, Fortius, the Olympic motto, faster, higher, braver. Nice catchy motto, which largely captures what is understood to be the Olympic spirit. There is no mention of beauty, elegance, artistic impression, and the motto also leads us into a world of sport that is objectively measurable; faster time, higher distance, no room for any human failings, no disagreement.

Athletics, swimming, skiing, cycling, rowing, and many other sports are measured and the competitors are judged by a measurement, with no (or negligible) human input. It doesn’t matter how elegantly you run, if you beat everyone else then you win. Other sports are contests between individuals or teams won by points, goals, etc, other sports are races, the winner wins irrespectively of how beautifully they may have performed.

Sport vs Performance. Figure skating even has its own set of marks for artistic impression, which is indicative of a performance, and we all know that beauty counts, that the costume counts, the make-up too, and that’s not confined to skating. Synchronised swimming is probably an even more extreme example, gymnastics, diving, dressage, and anything that is subjectively scored by humans has inherent failings. Even such sports as mogul skiing, the half-pipe snowboarding, ski-jumping, and to top it all off, judo, wrestling and boxing are incredibly objective.

So what is wrong with human scoring? Humans make mistakes, humans are swayed by beauty, humans are sometimes bad.

The Olympics have survived these few human errors. A few? Each Olympics is replete with human mistakes, some unintentional, some deliberate.

Probably the biggest scandal involved figure skating, when it was discovered that judges from different nations were helping each other boost their nation’s stars. I’ll score your skater high, if you score our pair high.

But it went deeper than that. Soviet bloc countries had always scored higher for their own, and had often manipulated the judging line up to ensure their judges outnumbered all others. Even to the TV viewer at home the judging stank. Not just at one Olympics, but for years and decades, in all skating competions. In addition the maximum score that any judge could award was 6. So once a judge had awarded the maximum score they had nowhere to go for a subsequent competitor who was better (objectively rating performance rears its ugly head again).

A mention here for skating which eventually got its act together when the whole murky world of ice-skating judging was revealed, but they never went back into past misdemeanors, and decades of injustice remain untouched. Skating worked out a much more rigorous marking system, did away with a maximum limit, and, even though it is still all about performance, the judges scores are much fairer.

So where does that leave us? Unfortunately many of the performance sports are now so ingrained into the fabric of the Olympics that it would seem wrong to omit them. But should any new sports be considered then a measurable sport must surely have precedence. At present there are sports like baseball, squash, darts, even bouldering, in which human judgement is minimal. These sports are eminently worthy of consideration.

The balance should swing back to citius, altius, fortius, and not higher, faster, cuter.

Olympics 5-Point Plan: Point 3

So far we’ve taken nationalities out of the Olympics, and we’ve awarded medals for the top 8. Now it is time to sharpen up the situation regarding the events.

One extremely irksome issue is that of event balance. For example a top gymnast has the opportunity to win medals in overall gymnastics, team gymnastics, and then each gymnastic event in isolation. If a competitor fails in the pommel horse, no worries there’s always the vault. Multiple medaling is the norm. Now take the marathon; only the one chance, no possibility of trying another event, and what an exhausting event too.

Point 3 Reduce the number of events

It’s as simple as that? Yes. Each event would need to be looked at in turn; it wouldn’t be possible to apply fixed rules to all events, but the concept should be the same, ie fewer events.

For example? If we follow through the gymnastics disciplines referred to above, the simple, obvious conclusion is to award medals for the overall event only. No team event, remember we have already dispensed with nationalities, and gymnastics is hardly a true team sport. And certainly no medals for each individual discipline. For another sport that is infamous for its multiple medaling, swimming, the same concept, fewer events. One however should bear in mind the status of swimming, an everyday human activity which is a time-measured sport (something like gymnastics is subjectively scored), and also its place in Olympic history. So each of the four strokes, plus the medley should remain, but no relays (again no nationalities). And all that needs pruning are some of the distances. Just leave it at 100m (not the medley) and 400m. Then the freestyle may additionally have the long distance 1500m. And that’s it. There’s nothing stopping individual sports associations from having all the other multifarious events in their own world championships, but to expect the Olympics to provide the same depth is not on.

That’s culling too much! Admittedly it is all a bit harsh, but the Olympics is getting too big for so many cities to bid, and so many facilities are underused afterwards. A large slicing might well be the answer, and just think of the importance and drama it would add to the remaining events. Spectators would be much more able to follow everything. Swimming is just a blur at present, it would be so much clearer to the general public.

What about sports that are team events only? That is a good question, there are other issues at work here, more later.

This concept of fewer events would be applied to all sports, although something like football has only the one available gold medal, so reducing this is clearly not feasible.

Fewer events would lead to a slimmer Olympics, where each event would become a great deal more valuable. And many more cities from around the globe would be able to afford the games, not just the same old cities fighting it out.

A slim, sharp, affordable Olympics, isn’t that what everyone wants?

Olympics 5-point Plan, Point 2

When the modern Olympics were first held in 1896 and in the early 1900s the competitors were numbered in 100s, not the 1,000s that we now have. And, a brilliant idea, the first three in each event were awarded medals: gold, silver and bronze. I don’t quite see where bronze fits in. Both gold and silver are pure elements whereas bronze is an alloy, but no matter, everyone seems very comfortable with these metals.

I too am comfortable with the metals, but I am distinctly uncomfortable with the top three being literally elevated above the rest, the so-called podium finish. The anguish of a competitor who finishes fourth, thus missing out on a medal, is tough to take. After all someone who finishes fourth in the I00m, and is considered the fourth fastest man/woman on the planet, something to be mightily proud of, walks away with nothing, and is often subject to the disapproval of the media.

Point 2: Award a greater number of medals.

  • Why only three? I’ve no idea. Perhaps three has that ring to it, and the top three seemed a worthy aim for the numbers involved in 1896. Quite a high percentage of competitors ended up with something.
  • So what’s a better idea? More than three medals. My suggestion would be eight. This would mean that every finalist in the track lane events, and all swimming events would be medalists. Of course the heartbreak of those not medaling would just be pushed back to those not reaching the final, but I think that is a far fairer compromise.
  • What would the medals be made of? There seems no point meddling with current gold, silver, bronze medals for first, second and third. Past that I haven’t got a whole load of suggestions, maybe copper, or steel, or even chromium could be used, but I’m sure that a consensus could be reached.
  • What about events with few competitors? So an event with, say, only 20 competitors or teams would result in nearly half medaling. My immediate reaction is that such events shouldn’t be worthy of any medals, more later, because there is another issue involved.
  • In some events, like gymnastics, some competitors would win a sackload of medals. Again there is another issue at work here, please go to point 3 in the next article.

To summarize, I feel that rewarding the first three only is too narrow in this day and age. Sport is virtually global and the world population has rocketed since 1896 (about 1.5 billion). Being in the top 100 is something incredible. But we have to be realistic, and I think something around top 8 or possibly top 10 medaling is perhaps a better compromise.

Olympics 5-point Plan, Point 1

Am I the only person that thinks the Olympics is past its sell-by date?

It’s too big, there are too many sports, judging is wildly erratic and often biased, there is too much cheating, spectators blindly appreciate competitors from their own country, and cheer when competitors from other countries fail. The whole so-called Olympic spirit has become a myth.

Not that I am against the Olympic spirit, far from the truth, I wholly endorse it; I just don’t see it any more (or merely in tiny morsels that get blown so big, because of their rarity).

So I’ve a 5 point plan to restructure the Olympics. It’s faintly ridiculous that anyone sitting in their living-room at home should feel that they have the big ideas to improve the Olympics, but this is the sad truth, those in positions of power in the Olympic movement simply don’t want to rock the gravy train in case they are first to fall.

Point 1: Take nationalities out of the equation.

This is the way to sideline nationalistic fervor, and start to return to a true Olympic spirit. Patriotism is all very good, but in sport? Many sports seem to have put nationalism aside, tennis being a prime example, and tennis is surely the better for it.

  • Who would the competitors represent? Themselves. Simply put, if the competitors are representing no-one but themselves then the nations of the world need worry no more about national pride. Why on earth should national pride rise or fall with Olympic success or failure? Admittedly this is more easily done with individual rather that teamsports, more on this later.
  • So who qualifies for the Olympics? The sport’s governing body simply selects the top-rated competitors, irrespective of nationality.
  • So who do we support? Anyone we like. We can choose to support someone local, or anyone else we may like, or no-one and just enjoy the contest.
  • How do we know where the competitors are from? If we feel the need to know we just check them out on the Olympic app on our tablet and get all the information about any competitor.
  • Can competitors change allegiance and represent a different nation? Any competitor would be free to live or train wherever they like, or carry any passport(s) they wish, but they wouldn’t be representing any nation because nations would be irrelevant.
  • What about the medals’ table? There wouldn’t be one.
  • What about national anthems and national flag-raising? There wouldn’t be any national anthems or flags. Perhaps the competitors could choose their own music.
  • Wouldn’t nations be loathe to fund athletes who would not be promoting national pride? Very probably, who cares? And nations would very probably not want to bother about doping programs.
  • Would it stop doping? No, but systematic national doping would almost certainly decrease. Doping would be an individual affair, there would be no reflection on the nation. Dopers would discredit themselves.
  • Wouldn’t it stop the romance of the Olympics which competitors from little-known countries can bring? Yes it probably would, though this has largely ended anyway.

This is Point 1 of a 5-point plan. It may seem rather extreme; it is.

Point 2 will follow later.

Winter Olympics without snow

The two biggest sporting events are said to be the Olympics and the football World Cup. We already have a World Cup planned in 2022 in Qatar where searing summer temperatures make a football match impossible, even the spectators are at grave risk.

This has now inevitably been rescheduled to later in the year when temperatures, although exceedingly high, pose less of a problem. It should be pointed out that the original brief given to all bidding countries was for a (northern hemisphere) summer tournament. Countries like Australia and Japan would have willingly bid for a winter tournament, much to their advantage. Japan, for example would avoid both the rainy season and the seasonal typhoon risk, not to mention the summer heat, with a winter bid which could afford excellent playing and viewing conditions. But they never had the chance. Qatar was chosen heat and all, and then the goalposts were changed after the vote.

And if that wasn’t bad enough we can now also look forward to a winter Olympics devoid of snow. It’s not the first time. The last winter Olympics, held in Sochi, Russia also had virtually no real snow. The Alpine events, the Nordic events, snowboarding, the luge, the skeleton, the bobsleigh, in fact anything outside in the real world, were all held on artificial snow. It is not the same.

The 2022 Winter Olympics were awarded to Beijing, which not only has no snow, it also lacks the other requisite: a mountainside. It transpires that the outside events will be held about 100km from Beijing (ie not in Beijing) and on a mountain which gets next to no snow. So about half of the games will not be in the host city. And once again we will be treated to artificial snow slopes with spectators in t-shirts, and a backdrop of bare, brown mountainside; White Christmas it will not be. It may as well have been awarded to Qatar.

How can anyone with any common sense make such a judgement? I think deep down we all know the answer.

Right Reaction from Mo Farah

All too often when an athlete, from any sport, is found to be guilty of doping they come up with the excuse that ‘it must have been in a supplement given by my coach’ or something equally lame.

And then what do they do? Stick to their story and protest their innocence. The hope is to get as short a ban as possible. The tell-tale sign is the reaction of the athlete. Their reaction is just not right.

Mo Farah, who has never been implicated in doping, finds out his close and trusted coach, an American marathon legend, Alberto Salazar, has been accused of being involved with doping. Mo wants answers from his coach. Are the allegations true? Farah is implicated by association. There are several other runners under Salazar’s tutelage, but Farah is double Olympic gold medalist, currently the top middle distance runner on the planet, the big name, and potentially the big scalp.

Mo Farah wants answers, and if he doesn’t get the right answers then he is going to split. This is the right reaction: indignation, bordering on downright anger, culminating in a confrontation with the coach.

How many dopers subsequently confront and split from their coach? Hardly any it would seem. The coach has spiked your supplement with a PED and you don’t want answers? It can only be assumed that the athlete is party to the doping.

The Alberto Salazar saga is far from over, but Farah got his answers and they were good enough for him to continue in Salazar’s stable, Heaven help athletics if Farah knowingly or unknowingly succumbed to PEDs but his reaction was right, and the signs are good.

Buzkashi, Bamiyan

Buzkashi, BamiyanBamiyan, Afghanistan is one of those cities at the crossroads of eastern and western culture. However when it comes to sport, they play something that is neither western nor eastern, and is essentially all theirs: buzkashi

It’s chances of making it into the Olympics are probably pretty slim, but it is incredibly popular in Bamiyan.

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Sochi Olympics

Sochi 2014Have the Olympics got a little out of hand? The cost of the Sochi Olympics was more than all the other twenty-one previous winter olympics combined. They even built a stadium, not for sport (though I hope it gets used after the olympics), but for the opening and closing ceremonies.

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Lightning Bolt

Lightning BoltThere’s a lot going on in this photo.

Firstly the sight of two bolts: one a bolt of lightning, the other the fastest human ever, Usain Bolt.

Then there are the cameramen on the inside of the track, laden with their equipment, seemingly keeping pace with the athletes.