Should professional sports be allowed in the Olympics?
What constitutes an Olympic sport? It’s a question that comes up every four years as the summer Games roll into view.
This summer in Rio sees the reintroduction of golf for the first time in 112 years. Whilst at first the world’s best players heralded a “fifth major” being added to the tour calendar, in the past few weeks the world’s top four players – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy – have all pulled out citing concerns over the Zika virus. Many though say they’ve used the virus as an excuse and like many pros, they simply don’t care for it. Golf’s four majors are more important to them.
American Zach Johnson was honest in his appraisal on the inclusion of golf in the Games, saying he’d rather be in his country’s Ryder Cup team in September.
An Olympic Games is the culmination of four years of hard work for athletes in the likes of track and field, gymnastics, swimming, weightlifting and amateur boxing. For the first time ever, professional boxers will be allowed to compete this year, though the move has been widely criticised by those in the sport.
But what about other Olympic disciplines and how are they viewed when not an Olympic year? After all, the Olympics were founded on the basis of being a competition for amateurs.
Maybe more than any other sport, the debate over Olympic football has raged for years. When a child kicks a ball, they think about winning the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League and the World Cup. An Olympic gold medal doesn’t enter the equation.
But what men’s Olympic football does provide is a tournament format for younger players, with rules stating only three players in the squad can be over the age of 23. Gold medal winners in the past have included the likes of Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola. And maybe this will be the year that Brazil finally win the elusive gold medal? They are the one major football nation obsessed with the prize and came agonisingly close in 2012, losing 2-1 to Mexico in the final.
The same can be said of men’s basketball. Olympic basketball, unsurprisingly, has been dominated by the United States. In its 18 appearances at the Games, the US have won the gold medal 14 times. In fact, it was only in 1980 that they didn’t win a medal of any colour. The women’s team have been equally dominant. In nine outings, they’ve won gold seven times as well as one silver and one bronze.
An NBA championship, and the millions of dollars in earnings that it brings, is the ultimate prize for basketball players. An Olympic medal, though more highly valued than its football counterpart, isn’t nearly as high on the list.
UCFB’s Head of Complementary Curriculum, Neil Silver, is a huge golf fan, and like many believes it shouldn’t be an Olympic event, just like other sports.
Neil said: “One of the joys of watching an Olympic Games is when you see an amateur sportsman or woman end an emotional four-year journey by succeeding at the highest level in their event. Many of these people have achieved that success with very little financial backing. Instead, they have reached the pinnacle through years of dedication and hard work.
“Contrast that with the multi-millionaire golfers who will be on display in Rio and that, for me, is why golf is not a sport that fits well in the Games.”
Neil added: “It’s a bit like asking a die-hard football fan: would you rather see your team win the Premier League, or see England win the world cup. Most would go for the Premier League. So ask a golfer if he would rather win one of the sport’s four Majors, or an Olympic gold – if they are honest, they will tell you that a Major would be a more meaningful legacy.”
The one major sport that breaks the mould though is tennis. Despite four majors per season and the Olympics usually falling in between Wimbledon and the US Open, the world’s best players always want to take part. Winners in previous Olympics include Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Lindsey Davenport.
Ahead of Tokyo in 2020, five sports are on a shortlist for inclusion: baseball and softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing and surfing. It remains to be seen how many, if any, will be included.