Wednesday August 12th, 2009

On Thursday in Berlin, the 15-member IOC executive committee will vote to nominate two sports -- from a field of seven -- for inclusion onto the Olympic program, starting in 2016. When these two nominated sports go to the general membership for a vote in October, they'll need only a simple majority from the 107 voters to be approved, a lower threshold than the two-thirds majority needed in 2005, when karate and squash fell short. Here, then, is a case for and against the seven sports in question.

Why it's in: The sport is wildly popular in Latin America and has already been on the Olympic program. It is also huge in Japan. Should the 2016 Games end up in Chicago or Tokyo, the tickets should sell well. MLB has said it will not televise games at times that conflict with the Olympic final. The sport may add a women's tournament if it is chosen, eliminating the complaint that it is a male-only sport.

Why it's out: In the past, Major League Baseball showed no sign of stopping its season, as the NHL has done, in order to allow the best MLB players to participate. There is a sense among IOC members that the power structure behind baseball doesn't want to bend in order to make the sport more Olympic-friendly. The simple fact is that baseball doesn't need the Olympics and many IOC members feel that the Games need baseball even less. If that isn't enough, baseball's drug numbers figure to increase between now and 2016. This one will be a tough sell. Oh, and would women's baseball fly at the Olympics?

Why it's in: Can any of the other sports offer the addition of a Tiger Woods to the sports program? Golf is played almost everywhere. If its Olympic component catches on, it could ultimately bring more sponsorship dollars into the Olympic pot than some of the other sports. People from 120 countries play golf and many would find a native son or daughter in contention for an Olympic medal.

Why it's out: Even if Woods, who would be 40 years old in 2016, shows up, there is no guarantee that the top players will play after two or three Olympics once the novelty of the Olympics wears off on the golfers. NBA players who drooled at the chance to play for the first Dream Team in 1992, started begging off in subsequent years.

Also, at least one board member says they will not vote for another sport whose biggest prize is anything other than an Olympic gold medal. The comparable lure of a green jacket may be golf's undoing. Another board member, who thinks regionally, doesn't like the cost of golf. No, this isn't about the four bidding cities in 2016: Chicago, Rio, Tokyo and Madrid can accommodate the sport's addition to the program. But regional games such as the Asian Games, Pan-Am Games and Pan-African Games look silly if they start lopping Olympic sports off their program because they cannot accommodate them. And if the IOC is trying to lure younger fans, is golf really the sport to do that?

Why it's in: This was one of the two sports that the IOC members put forth for consideration the last time, so there is already support for the sport within the committee. Karate's widespread participation will appeal to the numerous IOC members from smaller countries, who would be glad to see a sport that the traditional powerhouses do not necessarily dominate. It is one of those second-tier, confined sports that require only a basic venue for 4,000-6,000 people.

Why it's out: The Olympics already have boxing, judo, wrestling and taekwondo on the program. Do they really need another combat sport? How many casual viewers can distinguish among them?

Why it's in: The sport may appeal to the younger demographic that the IOC covets, and the committee saw the way snowboarding helped increase the appeal to that demographic at the Winter Games. If the committee can bring snowboarding and BMX into the Olympics, why not roller sports? The races that would run between 500 meters and the marathon have already played well on TV during the Asian Games, where they are a regular staple.

Why it's out: The sport's leaders have simply been too low-key in their lobbying of IOC members, many of whom may never have seen the sport, even on television while the other sports can be found on many international channels. The potential Olympic races could be held indoors or on the roads, but the type of venue hasn't been specified for 2016.

Why it's in: The sport's top players and officials have already agreed to cancel the World Cup in the Olympic years if rugby is added to the Games. That display of priorities sends a strong message to the board members about how badly rugby people want the sport in the Games, especially since the world cup draws 750 million television viewers. The version of rugby at the Olympics (rugby sevens) would be less complicated for the casual viewer, as opposed to the 15-a side version. (Note: the sport was actually in the Games in 1924, when the gold medalist was . . . the United States.)

Why it's out: Purists don't feel the sevens version is real rugby. If the IOC votes in softball or baseball, will it want to add another team-only sport into the medal fray? And if the women's event is added to the program, will the skill level be high enough among all countries to ensure competitiveness?

Why it's in: Only a single vote kept softball out of the Games in 2012, and as International Softball Federation President Don Porter correctly points out, some IOC members lumped softball together with baseball when choosing to drop it from the program. At a time when the IOC wants to show it is supporting female athletes, it would be hypocritical to keep out a women's sport that was already in the Games, especially one that has been free of drugs and other scandals. Japan's upset of the favored U.S. team at the Beijing Games may actually help the sport's chances because it proves that more than one team can win the Olympics.

Why it's out: Some say the sport's governing body has been pushing too hard to get back in. Despite Japan's victory in 2008 and the growing number of participating countries, softball is not nearly competitive enough at the elite levels. Since the sport was first introduced at the 1996 Games, the U.S., Japan and Australia have won 11 of the 12 medals awarded. Also, both softball and baseball need distinct venues. This was a huge problem at the 2007 Pan-Am Games in Rio, where facilities were a disaster.

Why it's in: Squash tournaments don't cost much money to put on, and keep in mind that regional multi-sport competitions will need to be able to accommodate the winning sports on their programs. Participation is spread across the continents, with players from 14 nations represented among the top 20 international men and women.

Why it's out: Have you ever tried to watch squash live? Yes, it's fine if you're pressed against the glass that encloses the surface, but the small ball travels at 100 miles an hour and crowds that are too far from the action can't see much of anything. It is also a difficult sport to present on television. The IOC doesn't want to restrict a sport to small crowds because of the sport's geometric limitations.

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