Olympic Sports: Do You Care?



So women's boxing, rugby, and golf will become Olympic sports, and baseball, karate, roller sports, softball, and squash won't. That's how the International Olympic Committee's sports pickers voted last week.

Golf, already overexposed, will get even more exposure. Rugby will get some of the attention in America that it already gets in Europe and Australia. And women's boxing — well, the Tunica casinos were on the leading edge once again.

Now the question is, does anyone care? One of the arguments for including new sports in the Olympics is that coverage of elite athletes will boost participation in general. But I'm not so sure.

I'm an avid squash player and member of the United States Squash Racquets Association, so I'll field that that one and let other Memphians talk about the rest of the winners and losers.

Squash is an elitist game whose old-boy network was pushing hard for inclusion in the Olympics. It looks good on television — better than racquetball, which is acrobatic but too fast to follow. But I can't get worked up about its exclusion. There are high-quality DVDs of "squash porn" for us hardcores. And if the sport hasn't caught on at Rhodes College, which has had two courts for 12 years now (and about that many regular players), what are its chances of capturing the fancy of the masses? But my playing partner Dan Cullen disagrees. Squash does not have enthusiasts, it has fanatics. And thus the news that, once again, the IOC has denied squash its rightful place in the Olympics has at least 15 million heads shaking on the five continents where squash is played." Split verdict to the IOC.

Women's boxing has occasionally been featured on the undercard at Tunica casinos for 15 years. It will be an Olympic sport starting in 2012. Rudi Schiffer has promoted casinos and sports in Memphis and Tunica for several years. "It's like mixed martial arts. I think it's a travesty. There doesn't seem to be any quality. Women with hardly any experience get the hell pounded out of them. It's more like a club fight. Tunica hasn't done it for years. Maybe if it were in the Olympics it would be more regulated." Thumbs down to the IOC.

Golf goes Olympic in 2016. Phil Cannon is tournament director of the St. Jude Classic golf tournament. "Golf as an Olympic sport certainly makes sense. The game is truly an international sport. If you need proof, look no further than the victory by Korea’s Y.E. Yang last week in the PGA Championship. If golf makes the final cut as expected in October and is chosen to be a part of the 2016 Summer Games, it will be interesting to see how the PGA TOUR’s schedule is affected. The governing bodies of golf have agreed to re-arrange their summer schedules that year to accommodate the Games. Two other aspects are intriguing — will Chicago be chosen to host the Summer Olympics that year, or will the pros (nee amateurs) be teeing it up in Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo? And, if the current rotation plays out, 2016 is due to be a Ryder Cup year...on American soil. How will amateur Olympic golf affect the granddaddy of amateur golf?" Thumbs up to the IOC.

Rugby also goes Olympic in 2016. Actually, it is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1924. Teams will play seven to a side instead of 15 to a side as they do in World Cup and other major championships. Chris Claude is president of the Memphis Blues Rugby Club. "I believe the addition of rugby 7s in the Olympics is a big deal for USA rugby, probably more than any other country. Since rugby is growing in the USA and USA is the reigning Olympic rugby champion in 1920 and 1924, it can go a long way towards bringing rugby to the mainstream media. Rugby 7s fits for television and advertising. In normal rugby there are no timeouts and 40-minute halves. In 7s there are seven-minute halves." Thumbs up to the IOC.

Roller sports did not make the cut. Mary Cashiola is a Flyer writer who used to compete in roller derby. "To paraphrase Brittany Redmond, another member of Memphis Roller Derby: If the Olympics can include women in bikinis hitting a ball over a net, why can't it include women in skates? Leaders of the International Roller Sports Federation were not in Berlin for the IOC's announcement, and maybe that's a sign that even for people involved in roller sports, it's just not time yet. In the United States, roller sports have been riding a wave of popularity created by the recent resurgence in roller derby. But there still are not that many people involved in roller derby, and the sport — in an incarnation that differs greatly from the game shown on TV during the '70s — is still maturing. Most of the athletes involved have only been playing for a handful of years and, as such, the level of play that one day may be considered "professional" is still undefined. Thumbs up to the IOC.

Softball, which gets lots of tube time on ESPN, didn't make it with the IOC. "As a former player and avid supporter of women's softball, I am disheartened by the decision," says Britt Hall. "Softball has been one of the most popular organized sports that women have been allowed to participate in, and has allowed countless women the opportunity to break from stereotypes to become respected athletes. The Olympics are supposed to be the format for the best of the best to compete. Softball requires tremendous athletic ability, encourages team work, and builds self-esteem and a positive attitude. And I for one wish that these sorts of qualities would continue to be broadcast to the world." Thumbs down to the IOC.

Baseball, which was in, is now out. Frank Murtaugh writes a sports column for the Memphis Flyer and is a huge baseball fan. "The biggest losers in baseball being turned aside are actually ballplayers themselves. Not the likes of stars like Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard. Until the Summer Games are moved to November, the best baseball players in the world will be spending their summers in big-league uniforms. But for the "everyman" player — guys like Brian Barden and Stubby Clapp — the chance to play in the Olympics was precisely the honor the Games were intended for. Barden and Clapp represented their countries (Clapp is Canadian) in Beijing last year, and Clapp was at Athens in 2004. They each told me the Opening Ceremonies were unlike any experience of their lives (certainly beyond anything they saw as Redbirds in Memphis). The world stage is obviously on Major League Baseball's agenda; witness the poorly timed World Baseball Classic. It's a shame the IOC doesn't consider expansion of this great game among its own priorities." Thumbs down to the IOC.

If you are passionate about one of these sports or some other sport that should or should not be included in the Olympics (see rhythmic gymnastics, aka "travesty"), your comments are welcome here.

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