Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ultimate at the Olympics: The common misconceptions

Every now and then I get an invitation on Facebook from a fellow ultimate player. The invitation is to join a cause or group or whatever else to help ultimate become an Olympic sport. It's all well and nice to have 100,000 people supporting the cause or whatever, but because I am a massive nerd, I thought I'd read up on what it would actually take for ultimate to become an Olympic sport. And, at risk of you not reading the rest of this post, I'll state the number one stumbling block we currently face.

There is no drug-testing in ultimate.

That's it. That is the biggest obstacle between now and Furious George wearing Olympic gold in 2016 is the complete lack of drug tested in or out of competitive ultimate. And possibly Sockeye. The IOC has a list of Recognised International Federations, and WFDF is not on it. To be recognised as an International Federation by the IOC, "must apply the Olympic Movement Anti-Doping Code and conduct effective out-of-competition tests in accordance with the established rules" (source). Now I'm sure the WFDF and UPA and AFDA and whoever else are not opposed to the World Anti-Doping Authority's principles and regulations, but the implementation of a drug testing process is difficult and costly. And don't even think about out-of-season testing.

But that's not the only thing stopping us.

There's no room

In 2002, the IOC ruled that future Summer Olympics would be limited to 28 sports, 301 events and 10,500 athletes [citation needed]. It took them a little over 6 years to break these self-imposed limits (Beijing had 302 events and 11,028 athletes). Baseball and softball have already been canned for the 2012 Olympics probably because of lack of interest and support from the international federation, but for the far more likely reason of those sports being quite shit. 2012 will go ahead without any replacements (26 sports, 300 events), but there are seven sports on the agenda to be added for 2016.

It's a team sport

The Ancient Olympics were all about individual pursuits - who could run the fastest, jump the highest and throw the furtherest. The modern Olympics like to replicate the ideals of the ancient Olympics, except these days there's women competing, and no one is naked. If you look at the list of 26 sports for 2012, there's only 8 strictly team sports. I'm not counting the likes of rowing, tennis and sailing because they have individual events as well as team events. With the IOC looking to reduce the number of total competitors at the Olympics, they are going to heavily favor the addition of individual sports rather than team sports.

It's not actually that popular

On the grand scheme of things, ultimate isn't very popular. In Australia, when you look at the number of registered players, we rank somewhere around canoeing. In the US, depending on who you listen to there's anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 players, but there are only around 30,000 registered with the UPA. The requirements for ultimate to be considered as an Olympic sport are...
  • That it is competed in by men in 75 countries across 4 continents.
  • That it is competed in by women in 40 countries across 3 continents.
  • All these countries have a national governing body hosting a regular national championship.
The WFDF only has 26 countries represented among their Regular Members. The US isn't one of them, and they have 17 Associate or Provisional Members. So we only fill one of the relevant criteria in 44 countries. 26 additional countries have an ultimate presence, but not a national association or championships. So there's a way to go there.

There's a bit of a queue formed

Next year, when the IOC Assembly goes down in Copenhagen, the IOC will consider the applications of seven sports for inclusion in the 2016 Olympics. Softball, baseball, golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports. Karate and squash are probably best placed, with golf also up there. Rugby 7s would be preferred over union as there are more countries that play, less infrastructure required and less athletes overall. I have no idea what roller sports entails exactly, but if it's anything like this, then sign me up.

For all my pessimism, there's actually some good signs that it may be included some day down the track...

It's not completely unknown to the IOC

IOC officials checked out the ultimate events at the 2005 World Games and were reportedly very impressed with the skills shown. Admittedly, this was a modified version of the game (6 v 6), but it's still a good sign. But the part that impressed them the most? The self-officiation.

It is very equal-opportunity friendly

Part of the Olympic charter states that competing in sport should not be restricted because of gender, race, religion or financial situation. One of the best things about ultimate is how cheap it is to play. And how inclusive any game can be.

It is relatively inexpensive to run

For many Olympic events, new facilities are required to be built. Or the host city builds a new facility just because they can. Sports such as beach volleyball, slalom canoe/kayak, rowing, equestrian and BMX require specific, or even purpose built facilities. Ultimate can easily use existing stadia.

I hope that all cleared things up for you. Any questions?


Owen said...

You nailed it in that post, Pissy.

For the average sports spectator, the second question after "What's ultimate?" is "So will it be in the Olympics?". But they are making conversation about a sport they know little of. SO they grab the easiest reference point they have: the Olympics.

We need to set goals that mean more to our sport: grass roots growth, marketing, coaching development, support from universities and other institutions, training for our administrators, more funds. We can be the high school sport. We can be the spirited sport.

There are far bigger and stronger sports than us waiting to get into the Olympics. Do we expect to get in, when their profiles and budgets are so much larger than ours?

The big thing stopping us, that you didn't mention, is: we need to sweet talk the IOC delegates.

And that requires spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on trips to Geneva, and flying delegates to deluxe sporting events, and fancy dinners and lots of gifts. Hosting cities used to offer school scholarships to delegates' nephews, and new cars to their nieces, just have a chance of having their hosting bid being considered.

The IOC is an old boys club which has a monopoly on international sport every 4 years. The IOC can charge millions for hosting rights, TV rights, sponsorships, and they have effectively no competition.

Jangles said...

it would be nice to have it as an olympic sport but i can't see it happenning within the next 20 years. i believe that there is every possibility of it happening but the game has many changes that it needs to go through.

After speaking to Buzz the ultimate aus rep, he has mentioned that he (as are many others) are willing to "piss in a cup for ultimate". sounds like a good facebook group pissy!!

Anyway for now the lowly ultimate player will have to be content with worlds as the pinacle of our sport.