Sunday, February 19, 2006

Olympics are all about niche events

With the Winter Olympics in full swing, i can't help but wonder why on earth "events", not sports, like ice dancing are in the Olympics (isn't it just pair figure skating without the tricks?). Or why NBC would broadcast hour after mindless hour of cross-country skiing which is about as riveting as their start-to-finish coverage of the marathon at the Summer Olympics. Then it occurs to me that the Olympics are all about niche sports. With a few exceptions, it's basically a two-week exhibition of bizarre competitions that comes along every four years.

That point was further driven home by the illustrious IOC's decision back on July 8, 2005, to drop baseball and softball from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Why was this, you ask? Well, while the exact reasons for this aren't clear since the IOC never feels the need to justify their actions and does everything with secret ballots, there are several plausible theories.

Many have accused the IOC of being predominantly European-centric; even anti-America at times. While baseball is still very popular in North America and Asia, it's popularity in Europe is minimal at best.

Another theory is that the field isn't competitive enough. Cuba has won 3 out of 4 baseball gold medals (the U.S. won the other in 2000 over Cuba). The U.S. has won 3 of 3 softball gold medals, outscoring their opponents 51-1 at the 2004 games in Sydney. But anyone who saw 1992's basketball Dream Team dominate compared to 2004's U.S. team limp to a weak bronze medal finish knows that it's only a matter of time before these things balance out. And going back to the previous argument, with basketball's fast growing popularity in Europe, i doubt you'll see it get dropped anytime soon.

And speaking of competitive fields, how many Winter Olympic events fall into the "which Scandanavian country is going to win today" category? Or which Russian skater is going to win?

Another popular target for finger-pointing is Major League Baseball and their constant refusal to allow their meal tickets, er, players to compete. Their ignorant, short-sighted response to the IOC was essentially that baseball doesn't need the Olympics and it won't affect them one bit. Nevermind other sports (like basketball) that have used the games as a platform to increase the popularity of their sports.

And speaking of niche sports, i'm off to watch the US curling team in action. And while both the men's and women's U.S. teams are from my home state of Minnesota, i had no idea how the sport was played until i looked up the rules online (thank you, internet) just a few days ago. And heck, the only reason i started watching in the first place is because i think Cassie and Jamie Johnson are cute. :)