The Olympics just don’t dig team sports
This morning in the newspaper I saw a story about the woes of women’s hockey in the Olympics. They were talking about how the Canadians and Americans dominated the competition, and how as a result the International Olympic Committee is considering taking women’s hockey out of the Winter Games.
Sounds familiar? It should. It was essentially the reason our sport was removed from the Summer Games. The perception was that the USA dominated the sport and so it should be removed for one that would give more countries a chance.
After reading this morning’s story it hit me. The problem isn’t softball or hockey. It’s bigger than that. The Olympics really don’t like team sports. Or put another way, they prefer individual sports.
Think about it. With an individual sport, you just need one good individual to compete for a medal. A country that hasn’t had much success in a particular sport can turn its fortunes around with a single outstanding athlete.
But it takes a lot more with a team sport. Take fastptich softball. You have nine players on the field who have to have outstanding individual skills plus the ability to play together as a single unit. It also helps to have a couple of dominant pitchers in the bullpen in addition to the one in the circle.
In the US, that’s not tough to find. We have a huge pool of top-level players to choose from. Same with Japan, China and Taiwan. All have viable softball programs. But in many other countries it can be tough to round up 15 elite-level softball players. Most have a few holes in the linup and as a result they just can’t compete.
In hockey it’s even worse, in my opinion, because you don’t have starters and bench players (other than in the goal). On a 20-person roster, 19 of them are likely to see a lot of ice time. Other countries may be able to find a few top quality hockey players. But with one-minute rotations on the ice they’re likely to have large chunks of time when they don’t match up with the world’s best.
The IOC sees that, and that’s why they seem to look for reasons to drop team sports. They replace softball (team) with golf (individual). True, they did add a form of rugby, but it wasn’t a full-team version. It was a short-sided version — easier to gather up a few good players than a bunch.
I don’t have a solution. Wish I did but I don’t. The IOC wants to spread the wealth when it comes to medals, and that’s easier to do with individual sports. Guess we’ll just have to settle for the non-Olympic championships — at least until there’s a change in thinking at the IOC. Perhaps someday they’ll realize that the people want to see excellence and entertainment no matter who is delivering it. Then we’ll stand a chance of getting our sport back in the Olympics.