Now that the extravagance and spectacle of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games has subsided, it’s time to reflect on what was. Michael Phelps and USA in Bolt were scary in their respective destruction of the record books; Phelps captured 8 Gold Medals in the pool and Bolt sprinting to an unheard of 2 world records in the 100 and 200m. These games also had unexpected surprises; the lip-syncing controversy of the opening ceremonies, amazing Chinese gymnasts who may or may not have been too young, and the Swedish tae kwon do referee who took a kick to the kisser from a Cuban contestant after the match he was officiating ended. All in all however, Beijing put on an incredible show. Though, in stark contrast to the opening and closing ceremonies, some of the competitions seemed to lack that edge-of-your-seat’ness. How many people stayed awake for the Equestrian finals (horse-riding competitions are considered athletic contests??) or those heart-pounding pistol events? We think there are some obvious replacements for those “sports” that seem to be, well, just a little lame.
First, some rules; in general, sports are eligible to be included if they meet certain criteria. They should have a scoring format, ruling body, and must be widely practiced (75 countries on 4 continents for men’s competitions and 40 countries on 3 continents for women’s). Any sport that requires motor propulsion cannot be included (Phelps and Bolt feats not withstanding), so no luck for F1 and Moto GP fans. In addition, the sport in question needs to be recognized as an Olympic sport prior to the Olympic Games in which they are to be contested and usually shown as a demonstration sport at a prior Olympic Games.
Cricket: Originated in England in the early 1600’s, now more than 120 nations are recognized as cricket playing countries. Some people complain about the length of the game, but this refers to the traditional “Test” format which runs for five days. Shorter formats have been developed over the years, the latest being the Twenty20 format where a game can be wrapped up in under three hours. After the Olympics and FIFA World Cup, the Cricket World Cup is the most popular sporting event in the world and televised in over 200 countries. The game was last part of the Olympics in 1900 and, though not currently included, it continues to be recognized as an Olympic sport.
Sepak Takraw: This game is best described as volleyball using everything to hit the ball over the net except the player’s arms and hands. Using a rattan ball, the game has some of the most amazing acrobatic stunts this side of the trampoline; including gravity defying kicks, flips, twists and turns, in mid-air. Having gained popularity in the early 1400’s throughout Thailand and Malaysia, today the sport is played in most countries around the world. With regional associations in countries as far as Scotland and Brazil, the game has spread far beyond its Asian roots.
Muay Thai: Literally means “Thai Boxing” when translated. Originating in ancient Thailand (though various similar fighting forms exist throughout South East Asian countries) the sport owes its beginnings to battlefield combat. Like other martial arts, it focuses on body fitness and toughness. Known as the “art of eight limbs”, Muay Thai uses all parts of the body for attacking and defending and has few restrictions. As a result some matches can be quite brutal. The World Muay Thai Council, which is the governing body, includes 120 member countries around the world. With the recent success of the reality television show “The Contender: Asia”, the sport’s popularity is definitely growing.
Squash: The game was developed in London in the early 1900’s, with the name “squash” referring to the use of a “squashable” ball. Now 125 countries are affiliated with the World Squash Federation. Along with karate and rugby, it is among seven sports currently shortlisted to be included in the 2016 Olympics. Similar to tennis in the level of fitness and skills required, but using a much faster moving ball, it had previously been denied entry to the Olympic program due to spectator restrictions; primarily because it’s played on enclosed courts. This was rectified by creating tinted glass walls, allowing the game to be visible from the exterior but yet not distracting to the players inside.
Karate: Another martial art to be considered is this popular one originating from Japan. With its beginnings traced the Ryukyu Islands (the largest being Okinawa) in the 1300’s, Karate was originally a mixture of indigenous fighting styles combined with Chinese Kempo, which was brought to the islands by a small group of Chinese settlers. Today there are close to 100 separate karate federations and the game has spread well beyond its Japanese origins. With the additions of judo and tae kwon do to the Olympic Games, martial arts are becoming increasingly popular. Karate was one of the seven sports to make it to the final voting stage for the 2012 games, but lacking the two-thirds majority required to be included.
Rugby: The game of Rugby in its current form, with specific rules and regulations, began in the early 1800’s, though the game itself existed in various forms long before that. Owing its name to the town in which it was developed (Rugby, in the county of Warwickshire, England); the sport was part of the Olympic program until 1924. The Rugby Board is now pushing a condensed format, seven player team version to be included in the Games, instead of the traditional matches with 15-man teams. Rugby has gained widespread popularity over the years, with recent inclusions into the Pan American and Asian Games. An inclusion in the Olympics would give small Pacific nations such as Tonga and Fiji an increased chance for glory on the medal stands.
Currently the Summer Olympics program is fixed at 28 main games, 301 events with over 10,000 athletes. The only chance for a new sport to be included is when another is voted out. A majority vote by the Olympic Committee is required for approval. The committee generally wants the games to be spectator friendly and thusly guaranteeing revenue. The six we’ve mentioned definitely have the interest and excitement to support them and with a little luck we just might see them at an upcoming Olympics.