Kick them out

>> Wednesday

While I have been known to give the Olympics a lot of crap for being a bunch of sports no one cares about outside of the Olympics (Gymnastics, Fencing, etc.) I more than appreciate what the Olympics are. However, despite the celebration of obscure sports like team handball and water polo, I think the Olympics could be better served by kicking some of the more mainstream sports out of the ring.

In my opinion, the Olympics should be the greatest stage of international competition in a given sport. This is why everyone remembers Michael Johnson winning gold in Atlanta 12 years ago, but hardly anyone remembers who took home the title at the next World Championships. With that, I would like to recommend the following sports be eliminated from the Olympic program.

Men's Soccer
Baseball
Tennis

For each of these sports, the fact remains that the Olympics are not the grandest scale for athletes to compete in international competition.

BASEBALL

Baseball has already been taken out of the rotation for London 2012, and I imagine the advancement of the World Baseball Classic may send the idea of Olympic baseball sliding even further into irrelevance. While winning the World Series may be the dream of every baseball player since they were a child, I'm differentiating club and international competition. While the idea of national teams is still a new one for baseball (Hell, players actually coming from different countries is only a handful of decades old), the World Baseball Classic, if its first go-around is to be believed, is fast becoming the gold standard for international baseball competition. This is the competition where the stars and professionals come out to play. Of course its timing in March instead of the midst of a pennant push in August might have something to do with it, but that seems only to heighten its irrelevance. If baseball did have full functioning national teams, the Olympics would be like the fourth-stringers.

MEN'S SOCCER
For one sport, sending in the reserves is already a fact of life. Men's soccer is arguably the most popular sport on the planet. Olympic soccer tournaments draw large crowds (even in the United States), but hardly anyone seems to care. The reason being that soccer is already bigger than the Olympics. To keep the Olympic soccer tournament from upstaging the rest of the Olympics, teams that qualify for the Olympics are restricted to bringing their national Under-23 team, plus three overage players. While this brought some stars to the Olympics this year like Ronaldinho (Brazil), Leo Messi (Argentina) and Brian McBride (USA), the tournament is mostly contested by college kids or young professionals who are still trying to get minutes with their full national team.

However, a recent decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport has thrown a wrench even in this provision. Ordinarily, club teams are required by FIFA to release players called up for international duty. However, the CAS recently ruled that this rule does not apply to the Olympics, because it is not a FIFA-run tournament. Teams are now not only reluctant to send their stars to the Olympics in August (which happens to be when lucrative Champions Leagu qualifiers begin), but they have the Court to back them up. What this means is in any future Olympic football tournaments, there will likely not be any stars of note who are not on their country's U-23 team.

U-23 teams aside, the biggest goal for any national footballer is to win a World Cup. The World Cup, likewise every four years is arguably the largest single-sport event in the world. Qualifying begins almost immediately after the prior Cup cycle ends and consumes the attention of entire nations. That's where the glory is. Just off the top of my head I can name every World Cup winner going back to 1962, but I'm note sure I could tell you who won the 2004 Olympic Football tournament.

Almost every professional footballer has dreamt of winning the World Cup. I would imagine very few dream about winning a U-23 Olympic Gold Medal. It's very similar to why Rugby is not an Olympic sport. Despite the IRB Rugby World Cup being the 3rd-largest sporting event in the world after the World Cup and Olympics, winning the Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of international competition in that sport. Anything the Olympics could offer would be second-best.

Side Note: Women's Soccer
I've recommended men's soccer for elimination but not women's soccer, despite the existence of a Women's World Cup which would in theory parallel the FIFA World Cup as the biggest tournament in the sport. However, due to the relative lack of popularity in the WWC, the Olympics still represent a major international tournament.

It's similar to the way that the Olympic Men's Basketball tournament is still a major tournament, but the FIBA Championships are at best second-tier. Likewise, I agree with some soccer writers in that the Women's World Cup should be moved to every two years instead of every four, in odd-numbered years to avoid conflicts for media attention with the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, and the EURO. With a WWC last year in China, and a Women's Olympic football tournament this year, the next time a major Women's international competition will take place is in 2011 with the next Women's World Cup. While scarcity makes for a more exciting product, for a sport struggling to find an audience, that is too long out of the public eye, and there are not enough women's footballing nations to support a four-year tournament cycle (Pretty much every country from Morocco to Pakistan doesn't have a Women's team).

TENNIS
Tennis is the last sport and it goes along with what I've already said about players dreaming about winning one competition and not an Olympic medal. However, here there is one key difference. The reason for this is becaue tennis (aside from doubles) is inherently an individual sport. Unlike Soccer, Rugby, and to an extent baseball, there are no national teams. With players from all over the world, that means that EVERY match is an international match. The top events are and probably always will be the US, French, and Australian Opens and Wimbledon.

In that sense Tennis is much like Golf (outside of events like the Ryder Cup). Golf is not an Olympic sport, nor should it be, but it is very similar to top-level Tennis because it has international competition, individual nature of the sport, and four major tournaments (US and British Opens, Masters, PGA Championship). On many US broadcasts of golf, when the leaderboards are shown, what do you see next to the players and their scores? Often a national flag; Woods is American, Harrington is Irish, Garcia is Spanish, Els is South African, etc.

So while I may give the Olympics crap for being a collection of largely unknown or unfollowed sports (Equestrian, Team Handball, Synchronized Diving, etc.) the only thing worse than a collection of obscure sports are the mainstream ones where neither the players nor the fans appreciate the competition on the level of what the Olympics are supposed to be in an age of professionalism, and that is the greatest international stage for a given sport.

11 comments:

Patrick 3:46 PM  

Mike, you're forgetting about the classic Olympic sport, the Modern Pentathlon. In this event, individuals combine classic wartime techniques of horse riding, swimming, running, rifling, and fencing.

It has been televised on Oxygen Network if anyone wants to actually see this ridiculousness

Patrick 3:51 PM  

And here's a nugget I just discovered. Ex-Cubs manager Jim Lefebre(spelling error obvious as I am at work and don't feel like looking up the actual spelling of his name) is the manager of the Chinese squad.

Matt 4:23 PM  

I'm with you on baseball. If there's an international baseball competition and the top four teams aren't always some combination of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the United States and Japan/Cuba/Puerto Rico, it's not reflective of actual national awesomeness in the sport. The WBC isn't a perfect venue for this either, but it's much better than the Olympics, in that the good players (at least in some part) actually play in it.

Paul 7:54 PM  

Agreed on all three... especially men's football. The World Cup is far more interesting and impressive. A gold medal in the Olympics is basically irrelevant.

Zuch 9:59 PM  

Although it will likely pale to the majors and Ryder Cup in terms of prestige (at least in its formative Games), I really want golf to make the Olympics and think that it could become a huge event in time (especially if you got creative, and had team match play with a lot of the top countries, which could deviate it enough from the major stroke play tournaments). I'd argue that golf's biggest current event in terms of prestige, the Ryder Cup, is an international competition so there's clearly something for the Olympics to build on.

Vinnie 11:23 PM  

Yeah... I don't think anyone is gonna miss baseball in 2012. Besides that Schierholtz guy plowing over China's commie catcher and hearing that Jim Lefevre is managing the godless commie Chinese team, I have almost no interest in it, which I think may be the only time I've said that about something baseball-related.

Iain 1:49 PM  

Not that anyone will care, Rugby will be played in the 2012 Olympics in London. The IRB has been pushing for rugby to make a return to the games in a 7 vs. 7format. Generally rugby is played 15 on 15, sevens is a much faster and more open game. (Note: America is the gold medal holder in rugby form the last 2 olympics where it was played. USA!!)

Mike 2:12 PM  

As far as I know, Rugby Sevens will not be played in 2012. The sport came up for a vote at the 2005 Olympic session to be one of the sports to replace baseball and softball, but lost out to Karate and Squash.

However, subsequently neither Karate nor Squash received the requisite 2/3 vote, so neither will be included.

Iain 5:29 PM  

Damn you and your accurate research! Still, the fact the the IRB is pushing to have it re-instated as an Olympic event, shows some of the prestiege and exposure that comes alone with being part of the Olympics.

As far as getting rid a sport, how bout speed walking? That is the worst ecuse to give someone a medal ever! Great, I know who needs a medal, those dipshits who power walk through the mall on Sunday morning! Trampofuckingline is more of a sport!

Mike 6:13 PM  

Rugby Sevens is on the short list for sports to be added for Chicago/Tokyo/Madrid/Rio 2016, and the threshold to pass has been reduced from 2/3 to a simple majority vote, so it may be there before long.

Patrick 9:00 PM  

eh, normally I would agree about that race walking, then I actually tried doing it. Very difficult and impressive if someone is able to do it. That said, none of those who were competing actually were race walking, they were most definitely running (at least one foot needs to be on the ground)

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