Geoff Berkeley

"There's no I in team" is often a phrase used when someone is trying to emphasise the importance of putting self-interests to one side to focus on helping colleagues achieve the same goal.

But there's an I in IOC, and history suggests the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has tended to favour individual sports when putting together the Summer Olympic programme.

Breaking is the latest to be added to the list, set to make its first appearance at Paris 2024 and join fellow individual sports skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing that debuted at Tokyo 2020.

The addition of all those sports not only underlines the IOC's efforts to attract younger audiences but helps to ensure there are fewer athletes competing in Paris compared to Tokyo after baseball and softball were ditched following their Olympic return last year.

When confirming that the number of quota places had dropped from 11,092 for Tokyo 2020 to 10,500 for Paris 2024 in December 2020, the IOC said it wanted to reduce the cost and complexity of hosting the Games.

Baseball and softball were huge hits in Tokyo as Japan struck gold in both, but 234 athletes competed across the two sports whereas 160 participated in skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing combined.

Basketball, handball, hockey, football, rugby sevens and volleyball also featured in the Japanese capital and will be staged again at Paris 2024, but it is difficult to foresee new team sports joining the party in the near future.

Baseball and softball are expected to return to the programme for Los Angeles 2028 due to their popularity in the United States.

Baseball and softball have been left off the list for Paris 2024 but hope to feature at Los Angeles 2028 ©Getty Images
Baseball and softball have been left off the list for Paris 2024 but hope to feature at Los Angeles 2028 ©Getty Images

But should an application by the World Baseball Softball Confederation be approved, it seems unlikely that another team sport will be included in the Californian city given the IOC's determination to keep the athlete quota down.

Yet, this is not stopping global governing bodies from trying as they look to throw shorter versions of their sports into the mix for IOC consideration.

Forming "Vision28", the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) has set its sights firmly of sealing a place on the programme for LA28.

The IFAF has joined forces with the National Football League (NFL), the multi-billion-dollar organisation responsible for running for the world's biggest American football league, to boost its efforts to put flag football on the Olympic map.

Flag football made its World Games debut in Birmingham in Alabama this month and the NFL believes it can become "embedded in the Olympic Games".

"When you think about the game of American football, where do you grow and where do new participants and fans come from, it is flag," said Troy Vincent, executive vice-president of football operations for the NFL.

"It’s an inclusive sport and there are no barriers for access with a platform where you don’t have to have equipment.

"It is tremendous for the game of football."

The NFL has got behind the IFAF bid for include at the Olympics in six years' time ©Getty Images
The NFL has got behind the IFAF bid for include at the Olympics in six years' time ©Getty Images

IFAF President Pierre Trochet claims flag football - a short, non-contact format of American football played by teams of five - is "one of the world’s fastest-growing sports".

"It’s fast, it’s creative, it’s skilful, it’s fun," said Trochet.

"It’s America’s sport with a Californian spirit.

"Flag will be a statement pick for LA28, embodying the vision of new-era Games at the nexus of sports and entertainment."

The IFAF is among several governing bodies running team sports that have expressed ambitions of achieving Olympic status.

World Lacrosse - which gained permanent IOC recognition last year - is aiming for its sixes format to make its debut at Los Angeles 2028.

Like flag football, sixes is gaining exposure in the US as one of the sports featuring at the Birmingham 2022 World Games.

American cable sports channel ESPN also agreed a deal with World Lacrosse in May to broadcast 246 matches across three World Championships.

"ESPN is the ideal partner to further showcase our great sport around the globe as we experience exponential growth and interest in the game," said World Lacrosse chief executive Jim Scherr at the time.

"This unprecedented coverage also provides a significant boost to our Olympic proposal as we seek to gain inclusion in the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games."

World Lacrosse has expressed interest in securing a place on the Olympic programme ©Getty Images
World Lacrosse has expressed interest in securing a place on the Olympic programme ©Getty Images

American football and lacrosse both have Olympic history, with the former contested as a demonstration event in 1904 and 1932.

Lacrosse featured on the Olympic programme in 1904 and 1908 and was a demonstration sport in 1928, 1932 and 1948.

You have got to go back to 1900 for when cricket was last contested at the Games, but the International Cricket Council (ICC) has made no secret of its Olympic dream.

The ICC launched a strategy last November that described Olympic inclusion as a "central plank of growing cricket globally" and pinpointed the US as one of the key markets to target in a bid to add 50 million fans to the sport.

"Our sport is united behind this bid, and we see the Olympics as a part of cricket’s long-term future," said ICC chair Greg Barclay in August last year.

"We know it won’t be easy to secure our inclusion as there are so many other great sports out there wanting to do the same, but we feel now is the time to put our best foot forward and show what a great partnership cricket and the Olympics are."

Women's Twenty20 cricket is set to be contested at the Commonwealth Games for the first time in Birmingham in England later this month - a timely chance to showcase the sport as part of a major multi-sport event.

Netball has established itself as a successful Commonwealth Games sport since it first appeared in 1998, with England's win over Australia at Gold Coast 2018 attracting a large television audience in both countries.

IOC vice-president John Coates claims nebtall is a
IOC vice-president John Coates claims nebtall is a "very, very long way off" Olympic inclusion ©Getty Images

But World Netball’s hopes of seeing the sport played at the Brisbane 2032 Olympics appear to be faint after Australia's IOC vice-president John Coates delivered a blow this week.

Coates claimed that netball was a "very, very long way off" Olympic inclusion due to the fact that it is a sport predominantly played by women in elite-level international competition.

The Australian official also underlined the problems facing team sports aiming to win IOC approval for the Games.

"While we are no longer capped at 28 sports, there is a balance of including sports and keeping athlete numbers at 10,500 - that’s where team sports like netball, and what we’ve seen with softball and baseball, struggle," said Coates.

"Adding team sports would have to take numbers off the other sports and the traditional core sports may not be prepared to take any more cuts."

One answer to freeing up more athlete quota slot could be to ditch the men’s football tournament from the Olympic programme.

While the women’s competition attracts the biggest names in the game, the men’s event is restricted to players under the age of 23 and has far less appeal than the FIFA World Cup.

The IOC announced last December when revealing the 28-strong initial sports programme for LA28 that it was monitor the situation following a proposal for FIFA World Cup to be held biennially.

But with FIFA President Gianni Infantino distancing himself from those plans and momentum behind them stalling, football’s place is likely to remain intact.

Therefore, it will need some big calls from the IOC to find room for more team sports and may need those in power within sport to put self-interests to one side to provide platforms for the likes of cricket, flag football and lacrosse to realise their Olympic dreams.