April 09, 2005

The Olympic Programme

Last time I posted about the upcoming vote by the IOC to decide the Olympic summer sports programme. A couple of times, now, I have promised to comment on the programme and the evaluation criteria, so that's today's topic.

The 32 evaluation criteria in this report are nominally divided into 7 categories: History and Tradition (3); Universality (7); Popularity of the Sport (9); Image - Environment (4); Athletes' Health (1); Development of the IF (3); and Costs (5). I'll address these in these broad categories.

History and Tradition

I think it's important that a sport should have an established history before it is allowed into the Games, because you want to make sure that a sport or a discipline is more than just a fad. I think that the criteria set by the IOC in the report due a good job of measuring the important aspects of a sport's history. Beyond a certain point, on the other hand, it doesn't matter much. Should 100 years of history count more than 50 years?


The universality criteria are an attempt to measure the number of countries participating in a sport, and their competitiveness at the international level. This is, in my opinion, the most important category of criteria. Unfortunately, there is a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here, since putting a sport in the summer Olympics generally leads to a sharp increase in worldwide competitiveness. But sports that can't maintain broad participation at the elite level should be dropped from the programme.

Popularity of the Sport

This category has more criteria than any other, which might be an indication of the importance the IOC attaches to popularity. This is going to seem radical to some, but I would drop almost all of the criteria in this category. I believe that press coverage and spectator attendance are completely irrelevant. Sure, all that popularity means money, but that is really not the point. If the Olympics generated less revenue, they would become correspondingly less expensive to put on, because host cities wouldn't spend as much. I don't think that it would detract from the sporting competition in any significant way.

I guess I don't believe that the Olympics are important because hundreds of millions of people watch them — they're important because of the level of competition. There is one criterion in this category that attempts to address this issue, and why it's under Popularity I cannot guess. Criterion number 11 is called "Best athlete participation in the Olympic Games and qualifying events," and attempts to quantify the drawing power of the Olympics for a sport's top athletes. This is a critical factor, and why I feel strongly that golf should not be added to the programme. If added, golf will become another tennis, where the world's best athletes make up injuries and other excuses not to attend. What's the point of adding a sport to the programme if the athletes just don't care that much about the Olympics?

For the same reason, there are other sports that should probably be dropped, men's soccer being the prime example. Men's soccer is the only sport, as far as I know, that restricts participation in the Olympics by age. Think about that. I know that soccer is insanely popular, but really, why does the IOC tolerate this?

Image — Environment

These criteria have to do with some cultural and political issues such as gender equity, which should be secondary considerations in my opinion. Criterion number 22 deals with the "objective outcome" of the competition, which sounds like it might count against judged sports, and that would be fine with me. The same criterion talks about "present[ing] your sport in the most interesting and attractive manner," which seems be about popularity again.

Athletes' Health

This category should be called "anti-doping," since that's what it's about. I don't really believe that performance-enhancing substances are banned because they endanger athletes' health, anyway, but that's a topic for another day. I do think that it's a good idea to try to evaluate how dirty a sport is, and what kind of efforts are being made to clean it up.

Development of the IF

I'm not sure what the point of this section is. It seems to be attempting to measure the organizational health of the IF. Is poor organizational health a reason to knock a sport off the programme? Surely, if an IF is not doing a good job, then the other criteria are going to pick up on the important symptoms of that incompetence. I don't see how these particular criteria are directly relevant.


These criteria are related to the cost of including a sport at the Olympic games. This can be a bit tricky where separate sports share expensive facilities. For example, rowing and the flatwater discipline of canoe/kayak share a regatta course at most Olympics. So who claims that cost?

In terms of adding sports to the programme, the cost of adding new facilities and venues cannot be taken lightly. I suppose that this is one place where popularity might come into play, since some new venues might have a good chance of paying for themselves, whereas others are going to sit unused after the Olympics are over. A better way to address a sport's popularity might be to factor it in here, in terms of some kind of "net cost" criteria.


In my opinion, here is a prioritized list of criteria that should be applied in evaluating Olympic sports:

  • The Olympic Games should be (or have the potential to be) the most important event on the sport's competition schedule
  • The world's elite performers should be drawn from a large number of countries around the world
  • A sport should have enough history to demonstrate that it is more than a fad
  • The extent of doping and progress in anti-doping should be considered
  • The net cost of including the event in the programme, including use of the venues and equipment after the games, should be considered
  • Political and cultural issues (e.g. gender equity) should be secondary considerations

No comments: