Track and field events are the epitome of the Olympics. If it is its right hand, swimming is the left. If it is the colour blue, swimming is the colour red. Laurel and Hardy. Shah Rukh Khan and the other Khan. You get the drift!
Let’s imagine a scale and call it the Olympics Scale. If on one end, we have track and field and swimming as two disciplines that fit so perfectly well with the goals and objectives of the Olympics – and sports like badminton, table tennis, and boxing somewhere in the middle – on the other end of the scale, there are sports like football and basketball.
What purpose does football serve at the Olympics? And for that matter, Basketball? Apart from guaranteeing the United States two more gold medals. Both the American men’s and women’s basketball teams are heavily favoured to come out on top again this year in Rio, as they always are at every Olympics.
Football and basketball are global sports that exist and thrive, on their own, in different countries and regions. Basketball has the NBA and football is represented in virtually every country on the planet in a variety of leagues – from the multi-billion dollar behemoths in Western Europe to amateur upstarts in Papua New Guinea. They don’t need to be in the Olympics. They generate neither excitement nor the sense of seriousness that events where athletes have trained for years for their most important Olympic event in their sport do.
Yes, they would have their World Championships and their national and continental competitions, but they would all pale in comparison to the gravitas that the once-in-four-years Olympics hold. It is the standard by which these athletes are measured.
Whereas, in parallel worlds, an Olympic medal is just an afterthought for a NBA player, whose primary objective is his very demanding year-long schedule focused on trying to win that NBA Championship. In the world of football as well, the best players in the world play in the leagues of England, Spain, Germany, and Italy, and their main responsibility is towards their clubs and their pursuit of league and cup glory – with the continental UEFA Champions League the cliched icing on the cake.
The once-every-four-years event that the best players in the world want to excel in and win is the world Cup, and not the Olympics, where it’s the under-23 players who play. It doesn’t add to the Olympics.
The Olympics should be the playground solely for those athletes who compete in disciplines that most of us would not care about at any other time.
And while we’re at it, what’s the point of tennis? I understand table tennis and badminton, the much poorer and less visible step-siblings of tennis. They have the four Grand Slams and an n number of tournaments all over the world throughout the year.
For example, synchronized swimming and diving make sense as Olympic events. So do judo and cycling. And shooting and archery. And gymnastics and handball.
Because these sports, as part of the Olympic Games, are watchable and relatable. The athletes in these events are cheered on for their prowess and abilities as much as the national pride that podium finishes bring forth. Removed from the Olympics, they mean not very much to a neutral observer. That is not a knock on the skill sets or the competition, but rather the nature of the fields that they function in.
Apart from the most ardent of hardcore fans or the random viewer who chances upon a televised event while channel surfing, an audience for a 10m platform in diving or a men’s dressage is practically non-existent. Again, it does not mean that these sports and disciples are not worth watching or do not require the word class level of professionalism and dedication that other mainstream sports do. It’s just that outside of the purview of an Olympics, they mean very little to the average viewer, to someone who is not invested in that particular sport. And because of that, the inclusion of football, basketball, and tennis takes away from these other sports.
The Olympics does not need these mainstream popular sports. And basketball, football, and tennis, do not need the Olympics either. They do more harm than good to the other. Olympic athletes and champions should be stars and celebrities in their own rights without having to share the limelight with footballers, basketball and tennis players who have their own specialized universes to operate in.