Every four years two if you include the winter editions the world stops to watch and enjoy the Olympics. And while we marvel at the feats of those who participate, discussion inevitably turns to what other sports we might like to see in the Games. Indeed, we even asked this question on our Facebook page.
Rio 2016 will witness the introduction of golf and rugby sevens, and the controversial replacement of windsurfing with kitesurfing. Sports that are reportedly being considered for 2020 include baseball and softball (who enjoyed a brief cameo in Atlanta), karate, roller sports, sports climbing, squash, wakeboarding, and wushu martial arts. The International Surfing Association are even lobbying for their sport to become part of the Olympic programme.
As energetic as the likes of squash might be, Much Better Adventures is far more excited by the extreme, the outdoors, and the adventurous, rather than the controlled, air-conditioned, and indoors. Therefore it should be no surprise that the suggestions on our Facebook page tended to be along those lines. Except for Tug of War and my proposal of dodgeball, that is.
But the problem with the extreme, the outdoors, and the adventurous, is that by their very nature they are difficult to mould into a format that fits the rest of the Olympics.
Take downhill and enduro mountain biking, for example. The sport is exciting, and relies on skill, speed, and a great deal of nerve, so would seem a perfect match. However, it also requires a suitable mountain. If downhill mountain biking had been included in 2012, it would most probably have had to take place at Fort William in Scotland, well over 400 miles from London.
As mentioned above, sports climbing is being considered by the International Olympic Committee. This seems a great idea, but questions remain over what format of competition would be used. Most crucial is the issue of where to do it? There is no doubt that the most stunning venues would be those provided by nature, but the logistical issues inherent with climbing outdoors mean that an indoor wall would be most likely. Would this diminish the sport’s appeal though?
If surfing were to be included in the Olympics, it would almost definitely have to take place on man-made waves. If London had hosted a surfing competition, would we really have been able to rely on a British summer swell? Wave machines ensure that consistent waves can roll through, on schedule, exactly where you want them, but a lot of the magic of surfing would undoubtedly be lost as a result.
Within the running community there is discussion about whether or not trail running, and ultra marathons should be Olympic disciplines. Trail running is great fun, but would be difficult to televise if it were to take place in true wilderness. As for ultras, would many people pay to watch runners moving relatively slowly for the best part of a whole day? Far better to include cross country running as a winter sport. The competition structure exists and the event can take place on courses within full view of spectators and television cameras. Also, it would boost the inclusivity of the Winter Olympics by involving athletes from Africa.
What about orienteering? It would seem to tick many of the Olympic boxes: speed, skill, history, and (at the lite level) lycra. But prominent camera positions and cheering crowds could give away the locations of the check points, thus defeating the object. However, put an HD head camera on every competitor and all of a sudden it becomes a very interesting proposition indeed.
In fact, I can’t think of many sports that wouldn’t be improved by having a head camera on each athlete. Imagine sharing Mark Cavendish’s perspective as he sprints ahead of the peloton; the view from Nicola Adams’ helmet in the boxing ring; or the defenders’ eye view of a crunching Craig Bellamy tackle.
Looking through the suggestions above, it seems important that any new Olympic sport be inclusive, easy to televise, involve lycra, and where possible make use of existing facilities within the host city. To my mind, the only sport that ticks all of the above would be inline skate marathon racing. Admittedly, it’s not especially extreme, and doesn’t have the cool factor of surfing, but true adventure sports would struggle to fit into the Olympic programme. I’ve witnessed such racing on the streets of Berlin and I am not ashamed to say it was really exciting. Imagine a cross between speed skating and a bicycle criterium and you get the idea. Skaters form into a peloton and slipstream their way around closed city streets, chasing breakaways and then finishing in a mad dash for the line, provided they haven’t crashed out first. The sport can also take place within a velodrome, but why stay indoors?
It isn’t a sport that we in Britain are particularly familiar with, but it has a reasonable degree of popularity elsewhere. It could be the handball of 2020. I can picture the British Federation of Inline Speed Skating giddily spending their new income from UK Sport on a nationwide recruitment and talent identification drive and establishing a central training facility on the European continent. They could poach Dave Brailsford from British Cycling to be the Performance Director and mastermind Team GB’s arrival on the global inline skating stage.
By 2024 our inline skaters will be household names and the French team will be questioning how we have risen to a position of such dominance so quickly, while the Federation of International Roller Sports hastily introduce new equipment rules in an attempt to re-level the playing field.
Written by Jonathan Bean, of Ethical Athlete, for Much Better Adventures.