Two words made my blood boil in the run-up to Pyeongchang.
No, not “North Korea”; or “Peace Olympics”; or even “Gangnam style.”
The words were “snow volleyball.”
The International Volleyball Federation was to showcase snow volleyball at Pyeongchang, I read.
According to reports, the exhibition is to help make the case for it to be added to the Olympics.
If successful, volleyball would be the first sport at both the Winter and Summer Games.
For goodness sake! As I have argued before, if volleyball wants to get on the Winter Olympic program, the way to do it is to transfer the traditional volleyball competition from the Summer to the Winter Games, leaving Summer as the exclusive preserve of the sport’s beach volleyball variant.
Switching volleyball and adding futsal and either cross-country or indoor athletics to the Winter program would make a huge amount of sense strategically for the Olympic Movement.
Why? Because it would transform the Winter Olympics into a genuinely global event – of interest to Brazil and Cuba and Kenya – which it most certainly is not at the moment, no matter how many one- or two-athlete teams from tropical nations sashay into the stadium in the Opening Ceremony.
Heck, seeing as how the Winter Olympics has found a quasi-permanent home in Asia for now, there might even be an argument for transferring badminton lock, stock and shuttle to the winter event, generating an audience in the likes of Malaysia and Indonesia and India too.
Or perhaps for adding squash.
Switching volleyball would also help keep the size of the Summer Games under control, since team sports are personnel-heavy.
How many Olympic rings are there?
Right, five – the same as the number of continents.
I know this because it is mentioned in the third (of seven) fundamental principles of Olympism enumerated at the start of the Olympic Charter.
How many medals has the continent of Africa won in the entire 94 year history of the Winter Olympics?
Would you believe, zero?
What about South America?
Right, zero, Cool Runnings or no Cool Runnings.
Indeed, of the 45 countries who had had athletes on a Winter Olympic podium prior to Pyeongchang, no fewer than 36 are (or were) in Europe.
This includes what Wikipedia refers to as “defunct nations,” such as the USSR and West Germany.
When I have raised this argument in the past, I have been told that the Winter Olympics are the Games of snow and ice, as opposed to the Games of sports that can be played in, you know, winter.
Fine, just as long as those who make this argument realize that the definition has a supremely political origin: namely, the – successful – campaign by former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch to de-fang the body known in the 1980s as the General Association of International Sports Federations.
Here is a minute of then International Ski Federation President Marc Hodler’s comments to Samaranch in 1981:
“In the name of the six winter sports federations, Mr. Hodler…wished to add his thanks…to the IOC President…for the positive reaction with which the few requests expressed by the winter sports federations, especially with regard to the Winter Games, had been received.
“They were particularly happy to note the clearer definition of the Winter Games as the Games of Snow and Ice.”
In marketing terms, there is no reason why inclusion of athletics and football disciplines should prevent the Games from continuing to be promoted in Northern Europe and North America as snow- and ice-based.
Meanwhile television audiences – and therefore media rights values – in the likes of Brazil, Mexico and Africa would increase with the inclusion of sports local viewers actually care about.
Follow the money, journalists are told, and of course, from volleyball’s perspective, if it became the first sport on both the Winter and Summer Games programs, that would mean, all else being equal, that it would also receive distributions of IOC cash from both the Winter and Summer Games.
If it agreed to do what I believe makes the best strategic sense for the Olympic Movement – i.e to transfer traditional volleyball from Summer to Winter – the sport would have a claim on IOC money from both Games too, but its Summer Games payments would almost certainly fall significantly.
The existing Winter Olympic federations were hit, post-Sochi 2014, by a decline in their IOC distributions as compared with what they received in the wake of the Vancouver 2010 Games.
As the International Skating Union (ISU) put it: “For many editions of the Olympic Winter Games, the revenues in favor of the International Winter Sports Federations, including the ISU, have continuously increased.
“However, between the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, there has been for the first time a reduction of over $6.4 million of the ISU’s share in such revenues.
“Any continued reduction of such income compared to the Sochi Games would have a negative impact on the ISU budget.”
You might use this reduction to support the argument that the Winter Games has become a tired formula.
But you might equally conclude that, in these circumstances, the existing Winter Olympic federations would probably be reluctant to see their cake cut up into extra slices – unless they could be convinced that said cake would get much bigger as a direct result of new disciplines, and new federations, being added.
Of course, if – heaven forbid – this snow volleyball idea does show signs of gaining traction, it may spark a wave of me-too creativity in what we have traditionally viewed as the Summer sports federations.
Anyone for ice wrestling? Or how about slush rowing at Beijing 2022? We could call it slow boat to China.
By David Owen
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.