September 22, 2021
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Smaller, shorter, cheaper … that’s my Olympic dream

I am enjoying the Olympics much more than I had expected.

The lack of real audiences takes away some of the atmosphere and it must be disappointing for the contestants who have worked so hard to get to Tokyo only to find it a city under lockdown.

There is no Olympic village for them to savour and, if eliminated, they can’t even stay on to cheer for their team-mates in other competitions.

But the lack of commercial hype and razzmatazz has focused attention on the sport, which has been good, with Irish contestants doing well in the early events.

Covid has forced a scaling back of the Games which the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in thrall to its big business sponsors, would never have voluntarily accepted.

Over recent decades the Games have been as much about showbusiness as sport, with more attention paid to the opening and closing ceremonies than to many of the events.

They have also become outrageously expensive to stage. Cities gamble that the prestige garnered by the Games, and the global attention they attract, will outweigh the potentially ruinous costs. If they call it wrong, they are in trouble.

Tokyo is getting very little out of these Games, which have been met with hostility by the Covid-cautious Japanese public. Japan can cover the loss,  but less-wealthy countries struggle to clear their Olympic debts.

Rio is still paying for the Games of  2016 and Athens for the 2004 extravaganza. China’s economics are hard to measure, but the Games of  2008 left Beijing with stadiums and training centres that are rarely used and somebody has to foot the bill, estimated at $3 billion.

So there are sound economic reasons for reducing the Olympic hype and, although everyone wants to see their own particular sport included, it is generally agreed that the Games, once the prerogative of elite amateur athletes, have grown into an unwieldy carnival.

The IOC could make a start by eliminating sports with major tournaments of their own which contestants regard as more important than the Olympics. Golf and tennis are the prime examples and

I would also include road cycling whose amazing athletes would gladly sacrifice an Olympic medal if it gave them the winner’s jersey in the Tour de France.

Rugby Sevens seemed sufficiently different from normal Rugby Union to allow its inclusion and – for the moment, but maybe not much longer – women’s football can reasonably claim the Games as its premier competition.

The same cannot be said of men’s football. Its overpaid superstars do not even want to compete in the Games so competition is restricted to under-23 players with the exception of three older players in every squad. Some countries field strong teams, some field very young teams and some top soccer countries field no teams at all. Some regard it as a development tournament, a disrespectful  way to treat the Olympic Games and an insult to the other sports.

As well as getting rid of these big sports, the IOC should also take a look at some of the odder events it has included.

Skateboarding takes skill and courage but is surely best confined to a secure corner of the local park. Sport Climbing – rock climbing but  without real rocks – should be left in the gym. And softball is not really an international sport, as it is only played seriously in North America and Japan.

There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, but the current Games feature a total of 33 sports and 339 events and the IOC’s aim should be to cut back the number, not extend it.

Faster, Higher, Stronger is the Olympic motto. Smaller, Shorter, Cheaper would be a good alternative.

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