Friday, August 5, 2016

Is Olympic Racquetball a possibility?

The Racquetball Blog recently celebrated its 8 year anniversary. Yay us! During that period the most popular article is the piece on racquetball and the Olympics that we wrote 8 years ago during the Beijing games. As the Summer Olympics begin today in Rio de Janeiro, it's time to revisit the topic, especially as some things have changed.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has changed the rules for including sports in the games, so the host city can nominate some sports to be included in the games when that city plays host. This will begin with the 2020 games in Tokyo. Earlier this week, it was announced that the five sports to be included in Tokyo will be baseball/softball, karate, sports climbing, skateboarding and surfing.

The inclusion of these sports is a result of "the IOC’s strategic roadmap in 2014," which gave "Organising Committees the flexibility to propose new sports for their edition of the Games" with the intention of putting "even more focus on innovation, flexibility and youth in the development Olympic programme" (quotes from IOC press release). Also, these "additional sports in Tokyo will not … be binding on future host cities." Thus, these five sports may or may not be included in games past 2020.

This Organizing Committee selection process is a way that racquetball could be included in a Summer Olympic Games if the games were held in a racquetball friendly country. Racquetball friendly countries are mainly in the Americas, and given how things seem to be playing out in Brazil, it's unlikely that another South American country will be chosen in the near future. That leaves North American countries, so the USA, Mexico or Canada. But a USA host city is the best possibility for racquetball's inclusion in the games.

There has been no decision on where the 2024 Summer Olympics will be, but the five potential sites includes a USA city: Los Angeles, as well as Paris, Rome, Budapest, and Hamburg, Germany. If Los Angeles won the bid, then racquetball could be a potential Organizing Committee sport selection. If one of the other cities wins the bid, then racquetball would be unlikely to be included on the program, although Hamburg is one of the best sites for racquetball in Europe.

Helping get racquetball into the games program in Los Angeles would be the strength of USA racquetball. The USA would be likely win multiple medals in an Olympic racquetball competition, although it's is not "the dominant racquetball country" that we said it was eight years ago. Mexico has become the USA's strongest racquetball rival, and arguably may have replaced the USA as the dominant racquetball nation.

Racquetball continues to be a small sport, so getting it included in an Olympic Games will be difficult, regardless of where those games are held. But it's the dream of all small sports is to be big sports, and being a big sport means being in the Olympics. Helping this cause would be to grow the game, and do so in more countries.

But despite its small size, we think it's more likely that racquetball will in the Olympics now, because of these Organizing Committee selections, so we are more optimistic than we were of its inclusion in future Olympic Games than we were eight years ago.

We hope to see it happen in 2024.

Follow the bouncing ball….


Todd Boss said...

Not to sound contrarian, but there's just no way Racquetball is ever going to be an olympic sport. USA racquetball spent 20 years trying, moved its headquarters to Colorado Springs and spent money and time and effort towards the Olympics as its end goal at the expense of youth development or program coordination for years ... all to get the sport nowhere. I think the single-minded attempts of the leadership of the sport in this country have contributed to the drastic downfall in participation over the last 10 years honestly, since there's practically no youths playing the sport.

If they couldn't get included in the Los Angeles 1984 olympics, when the sport was at is absolute peak of popularity in the US, why would we think a future LA olympics would have any chance of succeeding?

I suppose you could argue that the sport now appeals to more countries than in the 80s and thats true of course; but its still very regionalized; USA, Mexico, Canada dominate. But if a sport like Squash which is far, far more widespread and played globally with a large international tour throughout North America, Europe and Asia cannot get into the Olympics, why would we think that Racquetball would?

I think pursuit of Olympic inclusion is just folly and we should focus on ensuring that the sport even is still played 10-15 years from now as the majority of the current players reach their 50s and 60s.

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