It’s a Shame Some Sports Get Only One Shot…

As Tokyo 2020 winds down in its final weekend, I’m struck by the impact of the new Olympic sports. Debuts of karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing came, along with the return of baseball & softball. All of them offered intense and diverse competition.

Unfortunately, only some of these new sports are set to appear at Paris 2024. Karate, baseball & softball are saying goodbye to the Olympic program. Or, rather, are being told goodbye.

Team Japan celebrates a national goal with baseball gold in Tokyo (AP)

The background: in the interest of keeping a lid on the sporting largess of the Olympic Games schedule, the International Olympic Committee has capped the number of sports at each Summer Games. While some sports — track & field, swimming, basketball, gymnastics, etc. — make up the ‘core sports’, each host city has the opportunity to add an additional sport or two to their own Games. Hence, Tokyo 2020 added national favorites baseball/softball and karate, along with sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding.

But Paris 2024 has no interest in baseball/softball nor karate, so out they go after Tokyo, and in comes breaking(!) as a new sport.

Used to be, these ‘one-off’ sports were called demonstration sports. With that moniker, it was easily understood that a host was, well, demonstrating, a non-Olympic sport — Barcelona 1992 had basque pelota, for example — without any immediate implication that the sport, and its results, were ‘officially Olympic’. But the IOC dropped the official ‘demonstration’ allowance after 1992.

But today, sports on the program are all ‘official’. And, in deference to the Olympic movement’s importance and heritage, the opportunity for these new sports’ athletes to fulfill Olympic dreams is there and real.

It’s awkward, though, isn’t it? Listening to NBC’s softball commentator Beth Mowins talk about Team USA’s 13-year-long revenge goal in softball against Team Japan after the last title game at Beijing 2008 made me think…what about the next generation? Will the current stars of today’s Games, or kids maybe inspired, have to wait that long — or longer — for another Olympic shot?

At Tokyo 2020, baseball & softball each featured the desired marquee gold medal matchups of Team Japan vs Team USA, after quality play from other teams like Dominican Republic and Israel (baseball), and Australia and Mexico (softball). Both sports, linked together for Olympic bid efficiency, will actually probably have a good shot at returning to the Olympic stage for Los Angeles 2028…seven years away.

What about karate?

The show in Tokyo has been great. For the uninitiated, the kata discipline . And, the kumite discipline certainly fits right along as an Olympic combat sport alongside boxing, taekwondo, judo, and wrestling. has been a revelation

​What’s more, it’s proven to be a global sport. 37 National Olympic Committees participated across eight events, with 20 earning at least one medal out the 32 available. That diversity matches taekwondo’s, and outpaces in percentage judo’s.

Wouldn’t it feel right if new Olympic champions like France’s Steven Da Costa, Bulgaria’s Ivet Goranova, or Spain’s Sandra Sanchez had the opportunity to defend their titles? Or if Turkey’s Eray Samdan, Azerbaijan’s Rafael Aghayev, or Egypt’s Giana Farouk can move up to champion? Sure, there are world championships and World Games medals to conquer…but they seem a bit lesser now, no?

So here’s a call…let’s make the Games bigger. Open the umbrella to include more, deserving sports. Size of the Olympics’ infrastructure and impact on a host is certainly a concern, but there may be solutions — reduce entries in other sports, or increase the competition window (the Tokyo Games already actually started before the Opening Ceremony)…or…something. It just isn’t right pull an Olympic rug out from, well, Olympians.

France’s Steven da Costa and Latvia’s Kalvis Kalnins battle in kumite (New York Times)

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Games and Rings

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