December 31, 2004

2005 World Games

It's New Year's Eve — for me, that's a time to look ahead, not back. So, what's on the schedule for 2005? No Olympics this year, winter or summer; there won't be a Pan Am Games or a Commonwealth Games, either. There will be a world athletics championship, so there should be plenty of doping news, but it will be a slow year for multi-sport competitions for Canadians.

Eight World Games

The previous and scheduled hosts of the World Games.

1981 Santa Clara, USA
1985 London, United Kingdom
1989 Karlsruhe, Germany
1993 The Hague, Netherlands
1997 Lahti, Finland
2001 Akita, Japan
2005 Duisburg, Germany
2009 Kaohsiung, Chinese Taipei
But there is going to be a World Games in 2005, and that's ... well, maybe not exactly something to get excited about, but still something to mark on the calendar. I'm embarassed to admit that I had never heard of the World Games before this week, but I would guess that I'm not the last to find out. These will be the seventh World Games, and knowing the previous six host cities would surely be worth quite a lot in a barroom wager (see inset).

The 2005 World Games will be held in and around Duisburg, Germany, which is located at the junction of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers. One of the features of the World Games is that the events have to be held in existing or independently planned venues. I can vouch for the fact that Duisburg is well-prepared in this regard, having competed there many times.

It might be surprising to find out that the IOC stands behind the World Games — very close behind, in fact. The governing body of the World Games, the IWGA, is run "under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee." The current president of the IWGA is Ron Froehlich, who also happens to be president of the Association of the IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF). In October of 2000 the IWGA and the IOC signed an official memorandum of understanding, which you can read here.

In this memorandum, the IWGA has essentially agreed to put their sports programme under the control of the IOC. In reality, there isn't much choice. Most of the sports in the World Games are hoping for a spot on the Olympic programme; to get there, they have to be recognised by the IOC, so they have to play by IOC rules. When a World Games sport (for example triathlon or taekwondo) gets popular enough with spectators and sponsors, it graduates to the Olympic programme, leaving the World Games with a perpetual B-list of sports.

You may also notice that the IOC agrees, in the memorandum, to "encourage the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to support and assist their national multi-sport delegations taking part in the World Games." I don't know whether this happens in other countries, but in Canada, the COC doesn't give any direct support for the World Games. Participants have to use their own funds, or the limited support that their national federations can provide. There are some nice perspectives on this aspect of the World Games, as well as some of the politics behind sport selection, in this excellent 1997 article from Saturday Night magazine.

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