Tom Degun: Seven-way race for 2020 Olympic sports programme too close to call

Friday, 11 January 2013
Tom Degun ITG2Even if you are an experienced gambler, it would take a very brave or foolish person to stick their neck out and say unequivocally which sport will soon be welcomed onto the Olympic Games programme for 2020.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced in July 2011 that eight sports would be shortlisted to be considered for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics. Those sports were baseball, karate, roller sports, softball, sports climbing, squash, wakeboard and wushu.

The rather complicated process has since then seen the eight sports turn into seven bids for 2020, following the decision of baseball and softball to combine and become one.

That entire process will finally conclude at the next IOC Session in Buenos Aires in September, where, incidentally, the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic host city will be chosen and a new IOC President elected.

Unsurprisingly, the IOC Olympic Programme Commission have taken the lead on the process given that they are "responsible for reviewing and analysing the programme of sports, disciplines and events, as well as the number of athletes in each sport, for the Games of the Olympiad and the Olympic Winter Games. The Commission makes recommendations in this regard to the IOC Executive Board and presents reports to the IOC Session."

Chaired by Italy's long-time IOC member Franco Carraro - usually a man that likes to keep a low profile in the Olympic Movement, at least publicly - the Commission have been busy over the last few months as they have had a member present at a major Championship event for every one of the eight sports.
 
Franco CarraroIOC Olympic Programme Commission chairman Franco Carraro of Italy will be key in helping decide which sport makes the 2020 Olympic Games

Following the conclusion of the inspections visits, all the bidders gathered at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne in the week before Christmas to present to the Commission.

But, this is where things become a little confusing. The IOC is not revealing if more sports will be axed from the shortlist before we get to Buenos Aires or not. The simple answer for this is because they don't actually know themselves in what is a rather unprecedented selection process.

"In terms of the process going forward, it has not been decided 100 per cent what will happen before the Session in Buenos Aires," a senior member of the IOC Olympic Programme Commission told me recently.

"I am not sure even the IOC President himself is entirely sure how this will proceed. The presentations to our Commission in December were obviously a very important part of the process and it is fair to say that every bid was of a very high standard, much higher than four years ago. We are now compiling our report for the IOC Executive Board, and it will move forward from what they decide after receiving that."
 
lausanne palace hotelAll seven bids for the 2020 Olympic Games presented to the IOC Olympic Programme Commission at the Lausanne Palace Hotel last month

It is difficult to gauge what the IOC Executive Board will decide to do with that report. Some have suggested that could decide to keep all seven bids live by the time we get to Buenos Aires, others that we could be down to just two by the time we get to the Argentinian capital.

But rather than worry themselves with the internal politics of the IOC, the seven bidders are perhaps best to concentrate on showcasing themselves as best as possible in the intermittent period.

And taking an early lead in this fashion in 2013 appears to be squash.

I managed to attend the recent 2013 World Series Squash Finals at the exclusive Queen's Club in London which is one of the sport's showpiece events featuring the world's top eight male and female players.
 
2013 World Series SquashSquash have put down a strong marker for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games with a hugely impressive showing at the 2013 World Series Squash at Queen’s Club in London

The skill and ability of the players on show was undoubtedly of Olympian standard and World Squash Federation (WSF) President N Ramachandran was quick to praise the event.

"Squash has enjoyed a tremendous recent run - beginning with the successful IOC inspection visit to the Hong Kong Open early in December, and followed shortly afterwards by our presentation to the IOC Programme Commission in Lausanne," he said.

"And this weekend we were not only treated to the best live television coverage of the sport I have ever seen, on Sky and Eurosport, but also an avalanche of positive press coverage around the world - all of which is inspiring me to feel that we have made huge progress since our last Olympic bid four years ago."

The other six bidders will undoubtedly have their chance to shine before Buenos Aires, in what is seen as part of an IOC plan to arrive at 25 core sports, with continual bids to join the event.

This means however, that at least one current Olympic sport will have to make way in Buenos Aires, given that the addition of golf rugby sevens for the next two Games in 2016 and 2020 take the programme up to 28 sports.

If you listen to the rumours in the corridors of power, which is never the best idea in the world, modern pentathlon seems to be the one most in danger – although they will cling to the argument that it was the favourite sport of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympic Movement, who was ironically born 150 years ago.

Either way, predicting which sport that will go is just as difficult as predicting as which will come in.

It means exciting times, but it also means that the seven-way race for 2020 Olympic sports programme is too close to call.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here
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