Friday, August 26, 2016

Improving the Olympics

It’s done. It’s finished. The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are over.
It was good fun to watch, there were many great champions and there was an unprecedented medal haul for my native Holland, with a final tally of 8 Golds, 7 Silvers and 4 Bronze medals, as well as 2 Silver medals for Ireland.

I love watching sports, and during the Olympics I always watch numerous sports that I would not normally bother to follow, either because they’re never on TV, or because I simply forget they exist.
I’m a simple man. Put me on a couch or a bar stool in front of a tv showing a sporting contest and hand me a cold beer every 30 minutes or so, and I’ll be perfectly happy until the end of times.

                    Only the serious events, ofcourse

During the Olympics though, it always occurs to me that there are sports that are so lacking in excitement, or just not at all interesting, that it makes me wonder how these sports became part of the Olympic curriculum in the first place. How on earth, for example, did Skeet ever become an Olympic sport? There’s nothing to see or do. It’s just a guy standing in a field and once every 20 seconds you hear a pop and then you see a cloud of orange dust somewhere in the sky, indicating that the target was hit. Entertainment value: zero.  And while, for example, Trampolining is fun to watch, it’s really just a couple of grown ups playing at a game for 6 year old kids.  How did the Olympic committee arrive at the conclusion that something like Skeet was more entertaining than, say, Tug-of-war, which was on the Olympic programme until 1920?
I guess we’ll never know.

         This is the most exciting skeet photo I could find.

Over the past weeks, I have been thinking about how we can tweek the Olympic programme so that it is more interesting to watch. What, I asked myself, would make the Olympics more appealing, more fun, for the average Joe to watch?
Here are the recommendations that I will send to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, for their consideration. As I don’t have the kind of funds that will allow me to enclose a large cashier’s cheque with my report, I can not guarantee that my recommendations will be taken on board, but at least I tried.

Let’s get going!

What we should get rid of:

Archery is arguably the most soul destroying sport in the world. The athletes (and I use the word with the utmost caution in this context) are all expressionless androgynous drones that have the emotional range of a chickpea. They just stand there, staring in the middle distance, like wax statues petrified by an ancient witch who thought archery was too hedonistic and decided to put an end to all the excitement. The tv screen is split in two parts, one showing the living statue who may or may not be taking aim, and the other half showing the target, roughly equidistant between the shooter and the end of the known world. The only ‘action’ moment (and, again, I use this word with grave consideration) is when the arrow is released from the bow, which you can recognize, if you look closely, by a slight twitch of the archer’s index finger. A second or so later, the arrow will hit the target on the other side of your screen.  That’s it.  Repeat 7000 times and there you have the Olympic archery tournament.  If there is one sport in the world that can be done by robots, it’s archery.
Clearly, we have better options here.

Image result for archery
Did he move? Or was it the spinning of the earth that caught up with him?  It's hard to tell.

What we should have instead:

Darts has the same basic set up as archery: the athlete has a sharp, pointy object and endeavours to hit the target with it and score as many points as possible.

The Big Difference: Darts is fun! Image result for pdc world darts championship players walk on

Image result for pdc world darts championship players entry

Image result for pdc world darts championship party

While archers are humanoid robots that live in a silent parrallel universe where nothing ever happens, Darts players are outgoing showmen who know how to build a party, work the crowd and enjoy a drink. They’re your fun uncle, that kid from college who always knew how to get booze and the old drunk from your local pub all rolled in to one. While archers stand in silence, waiting for the apocalypse to arrive (or whatever it is that sucked their will to live), darts players dance into the arena to loud music and strobe lights, high-five the fans, sign boobs and bear hug the officals when they win a match. They know how to get the crowd going and the crowd knows how to party, dancing on tables, singing songs and doing arena-wide conga lines. Perhaps most important, darts fans still uphold the true Olympic Spirit: taking part is more important than winning. 2 hours into the tournament, darts fans will be more than satisfied at being at the biggest party in the world and whoever wins in the end is of secondary importance.  If you dropped an archer into the middle of the crowd at a darts tournament, they would probably use their bow and arrows to shoot themselves.

Image result for pdc world darts championship players walk on
Oh, and did I mention the cheerleaders? Yes, darts has cheerleaders.

To further convince the gentlemen of the International Olympic Committee, I would also like to point out the revenue advantage of darts over archery: The attendance at this year’s World Darts Championship final was 9.000 which is 8.996 more than the highest ever attendance at an archery event. This number was limited due to the capacity of the arena, and PDC chairman Barry Hearn said in a tv interview after the tournament that he could have sold five times the number of tickets if only he had had a venue with enough seats.
The hospitality turnover during the final was slightly higher than the combined annual budgets for World Archery for the years 2006-2015.

So darts is a shoe-in. What else can we change?

What we should get rid of:

Image result for dressage
Shown here: the Horse Moonwalk

If archery is the most boring event in the Olympics, then Dressage is the dumbest. It just doesn’t make any sense. Horse racing: fine. Get a bunch of really fast horses together and make them race each other. Good fun, ask anyone in Ireland.  Equestrian jumping- perhaps somewhat daft, but at least it has some sort of entertaining element in it, even if it is only to see how many fences the horse will knock over. Worth watching to some extent. Equestrian eventing- yeah, go ahead, ride a horse through the woods and jump across water, over tree trunks and see what happens. All fine with me.
But dressage.. no. Why? When did someone come up with the idea of having a horse dance to classical music and get a jury to give points for it. Seriously, what the fuck?
It looks so ridiculous that I just can’t help laughing at it. The only scenario that I can come up with is that at some point a bunch of people, living in a hippie commune during the 70s, off their head on LSD and bathtub moonshine, got the idea of making a horse dance to Jefferson Airplane around 4AM during the Full Moon Party. The next day, the local Sheriff visited their compound to see if nothing untoward was going on and the hippies, still wasted on acid and crude liquor, showed him the dancing horse and it grew from there.
Now it is in the Olympics and clearly a waste of time. Time for change.

What we should also get rid of:


Image result for fencing

Yes, I know, I haven’t come up with a solution for Dressage yet, but hang in there, it’s coming.
Fencing, at a basic level, has all the halmarks of being a great spectator sport. There are 2 fighters with swords, standing on a narrow surface, trying to stab each other.
You’re basically playing pirates here.  
And that is exactly what they should have done with it. You can just see it happening:
2 long haired, bearded guys with swords glistening in the Caribbean sun, standing on a wobbly wooden plank between 2 buccaneer ships, trying to kill each other. You’ll want to kill the other guy so you and your privateers can enter the other ship, grab the loot and sail off into the sunset, drinking rum, while behind you your opponent’s burning ship slowly sinks into the ocean.
But be careful! One missed step, one un-coordinated movement, one slip of the boot and you’ll fall off the plank and plummet into the shark infested sea below and end up as lunch for a Great White.
This sounds awesome, doesn’t it? As a spectator sport, it doesn’t get much better. I bet that if you made this into a movie starring, say, Johnny Depp, people would go out and watch it.

Image result for pirates of the caribbean sword fight

The problem is though.. they took out all the fun.  Instead of pirates, or even your average Renaissance Fair nerd you might expect to take up fencing in a whim, a fencing event looks more like a stamp collectors convention than a pirate or viking battle re-enactment.
Ah, but they still have swords! Swords always look cool, right! Right?!
Yeah, except that in fencing, they have basically replaced the swords with nitting needles that they flattened with a hammer to make sure that no one gets hurt. If you were to flatten them a little bit more, you’d essentially have aluminium foil. And the cool pirate plank they should be fighting on, has been replaced with a lame, flat yoga mat in a gymnasium so instead of falling to your death when you miss a step, you stand on the floor and get a barely noticable penalty.
Because of this, fencers try to move as little as possible. During a typical fencing match, the participants start at opposite ends of the mat, nitting needles pointed at each other. They stand there, waiting for the other one to move first. As soon as one of the fighters decides to make a move forward (typically by 4 inches or so) this will cause the other fighter to recoil in horror and retreat to the far end of the mat. When he or she has shaken off the initial shock of something actually happening, they will gradually shuffle back to the centre of the mat and then the same series of moves is repeated. After a considerable period of time, and after everyone, including the janitor, has long gone home, one of the fencers will succeed in getting close enough to their opponent to connect the nitting needle to his body and will win the match. If you suffer from insomnia, I recommend watching fencing. You’ll sleep like a baby.

What we should have instead:


Image result for joust

You see what we’re doing here? We’re killing two birds with one stone! We replace two dull sports with one awesome event, while still satisfying the spectators who want to see horses at less-than-full speeds and people getting stabbed in the chest.

Image result for joust
If you think fencing is more fun than this, you missed the point of life

Jousting is a spectacle that would fit in great with the Olympics. It combines chivalry with old Olympic traditions and is sure to fill the Olympic Stadium to the very last seat. Jousters could wear the national flags on their armor and helmets, or even at the tip of their lance.
Imagine how cool it would be to have 3 athletes in full medieval gear on the podium during the medal ceremony. Think of all the Monty Python quotes you and your friends could fire off!
That alone would be more exciting than all the fencing tournaments in Olympic history combined.

If you’ve gotten all excited about jousting as an Olympic sport, you can find more information on the website of the International Jousting Association or maybe visit the Tournament of Kings show in the Excalibur Casino in Las Vegas. It’s sure to be worth your time and entry fee.
The Excalibur turns over a billion Dollars a year, so saying that jousting is not a viable form of entertainment is nonsense.

Okay, jousting is in. Let's move on.

What we should get rid of:

Field Hockey.
Image result for argentina ladies hockey rio
Can we keep the cute girls though?

Like fencing, field hockey has the basic set up of an interesting sport. There is a pitch, 2 groups of athletes with sticks, a ball they have to smash into the goal and, in the women’s tournament, cute girls. There is interest across the world, with strong teams like Holland, Pakistan, Argentina and Australia spread out more or less evenly around the world. Hockey players tend to be outgoing characters who don’t mind a cold beer after the match, and even though in some parts, Holland amongst them, field hockey is seen as a sport for posh trustfund college kids, it has all the ingredients to make a great spectator sport.
So what went wrong?

Quite simply- they set up rules that prohibit everything that would make it a great sport!
You can’t play the ball too high. You can’t touch the ball with your feet, legs or hands. You can’t play the ball with the back of your stick. You can’t turn your back to your opponent. When you get a penalty corner, you can only roll the ball towards the goal, not hit it at a 100 miles an hour. You can’t talk back to the referee for fear of a booking. The list goes on. You are not allowed to do anything that would make for good gameplay or exciting scores. The basic game plan in modern field hockey is to get the ball into the opponent’s goal area and then try to roll the ball onto the opponent’s foot or leg so that you get a penalty corner, and if you get enough penalty corners, you will eventually score goals.
It’s a shame, really, if you think what could have been.

Image result for holland ladies hockey rio
Cute girls, for example

What we should have instead:


For those of you unfamiliar with hurling: have a look at this video:

Hurling is what field hockey would be if you added an industrial tanker full of Red Bull and removed all the rules. Hurling is the fastest sport in the world and, basically, anything goes. You can play the ball in any way you want- with your stick, your hands, your feet, whatever you think will work. You can launch the ball at face height into a pack of defenders and if they dive out of the way they’re cowards. You can push, wrestle, elbow and hit people.

Image result for hurling injuries
Move over, you feckin' girl

You can score from wherever you want, however you want. Injuries are typically waved away by the players and if they do get injury treatment, this takes place on the pitch in the middle of the ongoing action around them. Players regularly play out the rest of a match with broken fingers, bleeding head wounds and taped up joints. One player, a couple of years ago, was told by the referee to go change his jersey as there was so much blood on it that his white jersey was now virtually indistinguishable from the opponents’ red jerseys. Hurling is not for the weak.

Image result for hurling injuries
"Maybe I should wear a helmet next time"

Image result for hurling injuries
-Yeah, good luck

Hurling is fast and spectacular and everybody would love to see it in the Olympics.
In 2014, the GAA (the governing body of Gaelic Sports, including hurling) put on a demo game during the half time break of the Penn State-UCF American Football game here in Dublin and every single one of the Americans I spoke after  the game thought it was brilliant. And it is. Hurling would also get great local support because there are Irish people everywhere you go in the world.
As an additional bonus, Ireland would be guaranteed a Gold medal.

And finally..

What we should get rid of:


Image result for ricky hatton boxing

Before you start fuming at the idea of having boxing removed from the Olympic schedule, let me explain.
There is nothing wrong with boxing as such. It is one of the quintessential forms of competition, and arguably the most basic one. Boxing is probably the first thing primitive humans came up with when there were temporarily no mastodons to kill, or run away from. It is sport in its purest form, man against man, each combatant trying to knock the other to the floor.
But, as anyone who has seen even a single fight during the Rio Olympics will confirm, there is a big problem in boxing: corruption.
The issue is, ofcourse, that if both fighters are still on their feet at the end of the fight, a decision needs to be forced. This decision is taken by the fight judges and fight judges can be bribed.
I came home from the pub one night during the Olympics, switched on the tv and found that the heavy weight Gold medal fight was about to begin. A fighter from Kazakhstan took on a Russian and, from the opening bell, the Kazakh rained down punches on the Russian. From the word Go, the Russian fighter did little besides trying to protect his head and vital organs. His face was bleeding profusely and he managed to land 2 punches in the entire fight. I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to boxing, but rarely have I seen such a convincing win without a knock-out.
And then the judges, unanimously no less, declared the Russian fighter to be the winner.
As it was late and I’m not too interested in boxing, I brushed it off as an incident and went to bed.
Throughout the rest of the Games, I watched several other fights and on every occasion the judges’ call went against the fighter I expected to win.
I was confused. Did I not properly understand what is important in boxing?  Had I had too much to drink? As it turns out, it wasn’t me who was wrong- it was the behaviour of the judges across the tournament. All papers, websites and everyone I talked to in the pub and at work were appalled by the ridiculous calls made in the boxing tournament. Not surprisingly, most of the questionable decision went the way of Russian fighters. With the ban of all Russian Track&Field athletes from the Games as the result of a doping scandal, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that either the IOC wanted to sort of make up to the Russians for their loss of prestige or that some shadowy force around the Russian Olympic committee had been busy passing around unmarked envelopes. But ofcourse, nobody wanted to say that out loud.
Nobody, that is, except for the Irish boxer Michael Conlan who, like many others, was the clear winner in his fight against Russian opposition, only to be declared second best. The incredulous Conlan first gave the judges the finger, literally, and then delivered an interview to RTE, our national broadcaster, that would have consisted mainly of beeps if it hadn’t been live.

Finally, Conlan took to Twitter to address Russian president Vladimir Putin directly:

Boxing is rotten to the core, and it should be taken off the Olympic programme. Not indefinitely, but for the 2020 Tokyo Games. That will give the AIBA 8 years to get their shop back in order and maybe then boxing can be fun to watch again during the 2024 games, which will most likely be held in Brunei or North Korea.

What we should have instead:

You thought I was going to propose UFC, didn’t you?  Alas, you were wrong. Despite the fact that Mixed Martial Arts is, in my opinion, more spectacular than boxing, and a lot of fights do end in knock-out, be they straight up or technical, MMA has the same problem as boxing- you will regularly need decisions made by judges, and that causes the same potential problems as we saw above with boxing. So no, not MMA. What then?

Image result for world series of poker

Yes, poker is a card game, and doesn’t involve a lot of physical exertion. So what? Neither do archery, pistol shooting and all those other bullshit events that clog up the Olympic roster.
What poker may lack in action, it makes up in strategy.
Like boxing, poker is not about going in for the kill straight away, but about developing a cunning strategy and building up a game plan that will eventually get you the win. I have watched poker on tv quite a lot, and with modern technology that can see each player’s cards, plus the cards that are face down on the table, it is a great game to watch and really brings out debate among the spectators at home about who is going to chase the win and who is going to sit back and wait it out until the next hand. If you have never watched poker on tv, give it a try. It may sound dull, but it really is quite captivating.
On top of that, poker is different from your typical Olympic event, it has a global appeal, there’s a lot of money in it and, unless you’re in a Guy Ritchie movie, it is practically impossible to cheat.

Image result for world series of poker
The winner of the 2015 World Series of Poker, Joe McKeehen

There it is. My personal 5 cents worth of Olympic recommendations. I hope the IOC has a good read through it and considers a couple of my ideas.
If you have any suggestions of your own, let me know and I may take them on board when I meet with the Olympic officials.



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