Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The Olympic motto has always been Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin for ” Faster, Higher, Stronger,” but is the latin word Maior about to be added? Maior which means “Bigger.”

The FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games are the two biggest sporting events; or so we are always led to believe.

Of course it depends on how you judge being the “Biggest.” If it is based on the prize money on offer then the UEFA Champions League is top of the league, followed by the FIFA World Cup where the prize money is half of that on offer in the Champions League. In third place is the UEFA European Championships where the winners earn almost as much as the World Champions, the difference being around UKL1.2million (AUD$2.2million). The Baseball World series is fourth.

If you are basing the term “biggest” on the audience attracted from television around the World then there is a change at the top. The FIFA World Cup draws an average cumulative TV audience of 3.5billion every four years. The 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Brazil drew almost one billion viewers alone and so the FIFA World Cup is indeed the biggest.

Some may be surprised to hear that in second place is the Tour de France which attracts an average TV viewership of 2.6billion. It is also actually the best-attended annual sporting event on the planet when it takes place in July each year.

The Summer Olympic Games averaged 2billion just for the events held inside the athletics’ stadium. So if the figures for the sports held outside the stadium were included then it is most likely that the Olympics would in fact move into second place. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) estimates that the cumulative audience was 3.5billion. This figure which makes up fifty percent of the World’s population was based on people taking in at least one minute of the Olympic Games via the various media devices now available.

The IOC countered reports of ratings declines in some territories during the Rio Olympics, most notably in the USA by claiming this was due to the increase in viewing across online and mobile platforms. They argued that the combined viewership of those devices and traditional television was comparable with London.

In 4th place was another football competition, the UEFA Champions League which has an annual global TV audience of 1.7billion (cumulative for all the matches).The FIFA Confederations Cup, held every four years came in 5th.

In 6th place comes the Asian Games, but when you consider that more than two-thirds of the world’s population live on the continent, it should not come as a surprise that almost 1billion people on average watch the quadrennial multi-sports event.

The Rugby Union World Cup comes in 7th place with 789million viewers, and the Giro d’Italia eighth.

In 9th spot the quadrennial Winter Olympic Games which is huge in Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, the average viewership is just shy of half a billion for sports including skiing, snowboarding and the mighty curling.

Rounding out the top ten is the ICC Cricket world cup with an average viewership of 400million.

So if these figures are correct, and there is no reason to doubt them as they have been published worldwide, one wonders why the IOC are hell bent on increasing the number of sports being competed at the Olympic Games.

Back in August 2016 the IOC announced that they would be re-introducing Baseball and Softball at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. In addition Karate, Skateboarding, Sports Climbing and Surfing would become Olympic Sports.

It was revealed that the staging of the skateboarding and sports climbing events would be in temporary venues installed in urban settings, “marking a historic step in bringing the Games to young people and reflecting the trend of urbanisation of sport.”

The reasoning behind the inclusion of these sports was according to IOC President Thomas Bach that, “We want to take sport to the youth. With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them.”

Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori added to these comments by saying, “The inclusion of the package of new sports will afford young athletes the chance of a lifetime to realise their dreams of competing in the Olympic Games – the world’s greatest sporting stage – and inspire them to achieve their best, both in sport and in life.”

In Tokyo there will be 15 new events within existing sports, including 3-on-3 basketball, freestyle BMX and Madison cycling, and new mixed events in several sports.

In total there will be 339 events in 33 Sports. Which has many questioning have the Olympics become too cumbersome? With so many events will the IOC and the various TV stations find that people will simply pick and choose the events that they watch, rather than absorbing themselves in the whole Games experience?

While it is both understandable and commendable that the IOC have introduced what some will pigeon-hole as minority sports, they have missed a few very real issues.

First of all many countries in which athletes are supported thanks to Government funding, that funding has been slashed due to the economic pressures on those Governments. Many have taken a similar view to Australia and have opted only to fund those sports in which the nation is likely to win a medal.

Which means that many of these athletes outside of those sports are condemned to remaining to all intents and purposes “amateurs.” Yet their dedication is equal to that of any other athlete in their given sport; some would say more so as they lack that financial support.

If the IOC want these sports to grow and become a key part of future Olympic Games then they need to address one of the biggest issues facing non-mainstream sports in numerous countries across the globe. These sports struggle for media coverage. Athletes in these sports struggle for media coverage, which in turn makes attracting sponsors hard, which means attending qualifying events is extremely difficult, let alone the Olympic Games.

Australia’s men’s Hockey team are the number one team in the World, they have to been outside the top four for 40 years, yet even they struggle for media coverage. They just completed a Test Series against the Netherlands, the European Champions and World number four, in Western Australia, but try finding the coverage that such a successful team warrants in the media during that series.

This is nothing new to the Kookaburras, as players past and present will tell you, the only time they tend to see the media is when the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games come around and they are expected to add to Australia’s medal tally. If they are lucky they may get some coverage during the World Cup.

So if a team that is ranked number one in the World is unable to gain media coverage what hope is there for some of these other athletes and sports?

To succeed and grow they need coverage, not just when the Olympics come around but throughout the four year cycle. What chance do they have of competing with all of the other events at the Olympic Games?

There are traditionalists who say that that some sports do not belong at the Games. Yet the IOC are right that they have to move with the times and try and give other sports a platform on which to grow and promote themselves. Yet would it not have been better to split some of these events away from the main event? Could the IOC, like they do with the Winter Games not have another event run in between the Winter and Summer Games where many of these sports would then be played under some of the rays from the spotlight, rather than in the shadows?

At the 1896 Olympic Games, the first of the Modern era, there were only nine sports that were contested; Athletics, Weight-lifting, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastcs, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis and Wrestling. In the swimming there were only four events in which medals could be won, in Tokyo there will be 35 Swimming events in which to win medals! Some feel that this is too many.

There are some that feel if the mystique that was the Olympic Games is to return and the IOC are to pull in viewers from around the world they need to trim rather than grow the Olympic Games event. It should never become a supermarket experience, where the choices are so wide and varied. It needs to be more boutique.

By 1920 there were 156 events at which medals were available in 22 sports.(Remember 339 in 33 sports in 2020). The sports that were contested were: Aquatics (Diving,Swimming & Water Polo),
Archery, Athletics, Boxing, Cycling, Equestrian, Fencing,Figure skating, Football, Gymnastics
Field hockey, Ice hockey (Now Winter Games), Modern pentathlon, Polo, Rowing, Rugby union, Sailing, Shooting, Tennis, Tug of war, Weightlifting and Wrestling.

Should the Olympic Games after Tokyo go back to just being for these sports that in the main have lasted the test of time?

Should the other sports still be classified as Olympic Sports, but participate in a second games in which they will be able to gain more media attention, and hopefully more fans and participants? The idea being that the host city would not have to build such massive Olympic Villages to accommodate so many athletes at one time; facilities that often are not used post Olympics. They could host two events and be assured large numbers of visitors for both events and some of the venues would receive greater use.

One cannot help feeling that at the end of the day it is not about what is best for each sport to help it grow, or its athletes, but simply being able to lay claim to being one of the two biggest sporting events in the world.

Surely having three “Olympic Games” events is not that bad an idea. Yes it would mean re-branding them, from “Summer” and “Winter,” but if it ultimately benefits not only the sports, the athletes, the fans and the host cities then it has to be worth considering. It was only back in 1994 that the Winter Games were moved to being in-between the Summer Games rather than in the same year, yet how many people recall that?

Bigger Isn’t Always Better
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