Golf, Tennis And Football Don't Belong In The Olympics

Lower. Slower. Boringer.

12/07/2016 8:30 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:57 PM AEST
Reuters Staff / Reuters
Golf =/= Olympics.

There are three sports that should not be in the Rio Olympics or any other Olympics. You know it, I know it, and deep down, the International Olympic Committee must now know it.

Golf is obviously one of those sports, after the news overnight that world number three golfer Jordan Spieth is the latest high-profile protagonist of his recently reinstated Olympic sport to drop out of Rio due to concern over the Zika virus.

The other two sports? Easy. Tennis and football (soccer).

Why should golf, tennis and football not be in the Olympics? For the obvious reason that the Olympics is not the pinnacle of those sports. With every other Olympic sport, the five-ringed circus is the main game. It's the one event in the four year calendar that everyone wants to win.

Hockey has both the Champions Trophy and the World Cup, each held every two years and keenly contested. But nobody remembers who won those. It's all about the Olympics.

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This unbelievable golden moment from Athens 2004 was brought to you by the fact that HOCKEY PLAYERS REALLY ONLY CARE ABOUT THE OLYMPICS.

Athletics and swimming have world championships every two years too, but with due respect to the participants, who remembers who won those? Who messes with their daily routine, sets their alarm and and gets up in the middle of the night to shiver on the couch and watch?

For the record, Usain Bolt won the men's 100m at the last IAAF World Championships. But you only remember that he won the last two Olympics, right? Right. Because the Olympics are the pinnacle of track and field. It's the one event everyone wants to win, everyone wants to watch, and which everyone remembers.

You can't say that about golf or tennis or football. Football has the World Cup. It also has its continental championships, which as we saw over the last month as Iceland beat England at Euro 2016 and Portugal won the whole shebang, is a bloody big deal.

Bet you remember who won the last FIFA World Cup, but does anyone remember who won London Olympic gold in men's or women's football? For the record, Mexico won the men's and the USA won the women's.

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Pole vault is awesome. We don't watch enough pole vault, Australia.

Tennis has a little thing called the four Grand Slams, foremost among which is Wimbledon. You can probably reel off the fact that Roger Federer has won seven Wimbledons without thinking. Know how many Olympic gold medals he's won? A lone gold in doubles in Beijing, since you asked.

And so we come to golf, the sport which is back in the Olympics for the first time since 1904. One hundred and twelve years in the Olympic wilderness, and are golfers thrilled it's back? Here's what world number four Rory McIlroy had to say recently in answering a question over whether his Rio withdrawal was a bad look for the game:

"I don't think it's embarrassing for the game because most other athletes dream their whole lives of competing in the Olympics, winning an Olympic gold, and we haven't. We dream of winning Claret Jugs [British Opens] and we dream of winning green jackets [The Masters]. I've said to people I have four Olympic Games [major championships] a year. That's my pinnacle. That's what I play for. That's what I'll be remembered for. Whether that makes golf look insular in any way, it's just the way it is."

Yep. Like he says. He doesn't care and nor does his sport. And that's just the way it is.

The International Olympic Committee loves the star power that the best tennis players, golfers and footballers bring to the Olympics. These are recognisable faces and names. But the IOC should not be so insecure. It should trust its public more.

It should trust that once every four years, we all become intensely fascinated by archery and beach volleyball and triathlon and BMX and diving and pole vault and other sports which we usually pay about as much attention to as your average rugby league player paid to mathematics in school.

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Tears of joy for Sally Pearson in London which sadly won't be repeated in Rio. But at least we got to celebrate with her at the pinnacle of her sport.

The great thing about the Olympics is it feels different. Sport, like the seasons, moves in predictable cycles. Once every four years, the cycle breaks and we all get to experience something fresh and different. That's the magic of the Olympics. The Olympics is not steak night. The Olympics tastes different.

And here's the other thing. Athletes in less well publicised sports NEED the Olympics. This is their once-in-four-years chance not just to earn a little acclaim and recognition and hopefully a medal or two, but to convert that profile into earning power.

Golfers, footballers and tennis players can do that year round. Give the others a go. Let them shine without the distractions of sports we watch all the time anyway.

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