LANE ONE: France’s Guy Drut says the Games “must reinvent themselves”; how about throwing out 17 sports disciplines! Or 20! Or more!

France’s Guy Drut is best known as the 1976 Olympic champion in the 110 m hurdles and a a controversial politician in his home country. He served as the Youth and Sports minister from 1995-97, has served in multiple appointed and elected local offices and was convicted – and later pardoned – for taking a “fictitious job” in the Ile-de-France public markets scandal in the 1990s.

Now 69 and a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1996, he has been a headline maker many times, most recently on Sunday in a column for the France Info Web site under headline – translated in English – “The Games of yesterday will not be the Games of tomorrow”

Noting that “the Games are useful – even more in times of crisis,” Drut then challenges the status quo (English version via Google Translate):

● “This is the reason why they must take place. This is the reason why we must rethink them to adapt them, to keep them suitable for the changing world. They will not be able to stand at any cost, disconnected from reality, on the ‘margins’ of the world.”

● “The beautiful project that we built and carried in the bid phase for Paris 2024 is now obsolete, outdated, out of touch with reality. … we must review the means, and refocus on the essential. The first necessity is to make a budgetary reassessment of what the Paris 2024 Olympic Games will cost.”

● “The Games of yesterday will not be the Games of tomorrow. We must accept it and together imagine a new model. Within a few weeks and as I had expressed the wish, the IOC could bring together the Organizing Committees for the next Olympic Games (Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles). The objective of this meeting will be – in line with ‘Agenda 2020′ which had already laid the foundations for change – to explore new avenues, to think useful, sober, and responsible.”

● “We could thus sanctuarize certain events on a single site, whatever the organizing country. It is very expensive to build new equipment for an event that lasts only three / four days.

“Take the case of surfing. The Olympic site could always be the same and be, for example, in Tahiti or Hawaii. Same thing for canoeing, where you have to build an artificial river with each new edition. Again, this involves reusing existing sites. You have to keep the unit of time with the Olympic Games which take place from such date to such date, but the unit of place and action can vary. Another line of thought: limiting the number of additional sports on the program.”

Drut’s rambling commentary finally gets to the bottom line at the end:

(1) Make the Games smaller by limiting the number of sports on the program.

(2) Try to reduce costs by re-considering events that last only 3-4 days at most.

(3) If it makes sense, place some events – he suggested canoeing and surfing – in a permanent location so the main host city of region does not have to build a new facility (whether permanent or temporary).

These are interesting idea and if the conference he proposes were to take place, they would find the Los Angeles organizers from 1984 thinking – from home, of course, since no one would be invited – “nice of you to figure out what we showed you 36 years ago.”

But let’s take Drut seriously and look at what his reforms could entail:

(1) Cut costs by eliminating sports that take only 3-4 days and are therefore inefficient uses of time, space and money. Looking at the Tokyo 2020 schedule by discipline, this could mean casting aside

● 2 days: Cycling BMX Freestyle
● 2 days: Cycling BMX Racing
● 2 days: Cycling Mountain Biking
● 2 days: Aquatics Open-Water Swimming
● 2 days: Trampoline Gymnastics
● 3 days: Cycling road races
● 3 days: Karate (added sport for 2020)
● 3 days: Modern Pentathlon
● 3 days: Rhythmic Gymnastics
● 3 days: Triathlon
● 4 days: Skateboarding (added sport for 2020)
● 4 days: Sport Climbing (added sport for 2020)
● 4 days: Taekwondo

Based on the Tokyo 2020 presentation of 46 total disciplines in the Games – including the one-time added sports – 13 could be eliminated (and 12 venues) in this way. This is a good start.

(2) Let’s go further and look at removing sports altogether. Which should go? How about eliminating those sports which are not timed or measured, but judged. Do we really need to have judging – so often a source of controversy and/or corruption – in the Games? Such sports were not part of the ancient Games, so why not dispense with them now:

● Artistic Gymnastics (but see the comment below)
● Artistic Swimming (introduced 1984)
● Boxing (1904)
● Cycling BMX Freestyle (2020)
● Diving (1904)
● Equestrian Dressage (1912)
● Rhythmic Gymnastics (1984)
● Skateboarding (2020 ~ added sport for 2020)
● Surfing (2020 ~ added sport for 2020)
● Trampoline Gymnastics (2000)

I would personally retain Artistic Gymnastics for the sole reason that it was in the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. The rest can go and would eliminate four more complete disciplines or sports, bringing the total to 17 out of 46.

You could go further and question the participation of sports such as fencing, judo, taekwondo, karate and wrestling, which are scored sports and do depend on officials or referees. The difference between these sports and boxing or diving is that the scoring in these combat sports is qualitative – yes or no – vs. quantitative, in which entire performances are assigned an overall score.

The question for the combat sports – ancient and modern – such as archery, boxing, fencing, judo, karate, shooting, taekwondo and wrestling – is whether they belong in the Games at all, given the announced goal of sport for the furtherance of peace as a core value of the Olympic Movement. Personally, I would give a pass for fencing, shooting and wrestling, since they were on the Athens program in 1896.

How many martial arts do we need? Judo came in in 1964, taekwondo was added in 2000 and Karate is in for the first time in 2020.

And racquet sports? Tennis was in the Athens Games of 1896, but badminton came in in 1992 and table tennis debuted in 1988.

And looking to finances, should any sport be part of the Games whose international federation cannot sustain itself in business without the TV rights handout from the IOC every four years?

Drut is echoing his countryman Pierre de Coubertin, who back in 1909 told his fellow IOC members after the 1908 London Games:

“It will be necessary to avoid attempting to copy the Olympic Games of London. The next Olympiads must not have exactly the same character; they must not be so comprehensive. There was altogether too much in London.

“The Games must be kept more purely athletic; they must be more dignified; more discreet; more in accordance with classic and artistic requirements; more intimate, and above all, less expensive. …

“The Olympic Games now stand at the parting of the ways – and we need Sweden.”

The 1912 Games in Stockholm was the best yet up to that time, reducing the number of sports from 22 to 14, disciplines from 24 to 18 and the length of the Games from six months to 16 days. De Coubertin was right then and perhaps Drut is right now.

Less is more. Let the arguing begin!

Rich Perelman

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