The Summer Olympics Needs to Go on a Diet

The brilliant Vancouver Winter Olympic Games last month triggered memories of recent summer Olympic Games and how massive they were.  I was going to begin this blog with a blaze of statistics and graphs on the numbers of athletes, events, and budgets of the Summer Olympic Games, and how they have grown over the years.  However, such statistics aren’t that easy to come by in a collective form, so rather than spending hours collating the statistics myself, I’ll rely instead on hyperbole and conjecture.  Sorry.

The number of events in the Olympics need to be cut.  The head-count of athletes participating is now around 10,500, and the number of individual events is over 300.  This means massive infrastructure investments by the host city and nation, and rarely does the spectacle turn a profit.  It also restricts all but major wealthy world cities from hosting the Games. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Olympic Games.  But I’m concerned about the cost of the games, which limits the number of cities that can host them.  I also think that the Olympic formula and schedule is set up for individual competitors, not multi-game team sports.

A way to reduce the current bulk of the Games is to return the Summer Olympics to its focus on efforts by individuals, and also units (like doubles or quad rowing).  So although the events for the London 2012 Olympics have already been chosen, if it were up to me, these would get the cut:

Basketball, football, handball, hockey, synchronised swimming, water polo, and volleyball (beach and regular).  I’d also get rid of rugby sevens which is coming to Rio de Janiero 2016.

To further reduce athlete numbers, the “team” events in running, swimming, cycling, and other speed sports should also be taken out. 

I don’t advocate a forced raising of qualification standards to reduce athlete numbers, as this would reduce the number of athletes from small nations and diminish worldwide interest in the games.  And in some events like the 100 m running, the athlete skill level range is so narrow that cutting back the number of participants may cut out a potential medal winner.

The Winter Olympics, Paralympics and Youth Olympics don’t seem to be as clogged with sport events and athletes, so there’s no reason to trim things out there. 

At least the IOC seems to be cutting back on some team events.  For example, baseball, polo, rugby, softball, and bizarrely, tug-of-war, have been taken out of the Olympic canon.  It should keep up this trend.

First Olympic opening ceremony

The modern Olympic Games' first opening ceremony in Athens 1896.

Beijing 2009 Olympics opening ceremony

The latest summer Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing 2008. The pitch is getting mighty crowded!