Friday, October 9, 2009

Golf and Rugby Get Their Shot at the Olympics

I don't see how golf could become an Olympic sport, nor do I think rugby has enough universal appeal to make it, either:
One more reason to buy a ticket to Rio in 2016? Tiger Woods.

Rugby can start to scrum and golf can tee up after both sports were officially admitted to the 2016 Olympic program on Friday in a majority vote of the IOC membership in Copenhagen.

Golf won admission by a vote of 63-27 with one abstention. Rugby passed with a more decisive 81-8, with two abstentions. The two sports were put up to a vote after the IOC's 15-member executive committee had nominated them in August for addition to the program from a list that included squash, karate, roller sports and the re-inclusion of baseball and softball.

With the addition of golf, the Olympics, which opened its doors to the likes of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Roger Federer by liberalizing eligibility rules in recent years, will likely include Woods when the Games open in Rio seven years from now.

While rugby received strong backing across the IOC, there was some concern this week that golf would have more trouble. Golf received the fewest votes of the candidate sports when it applied for addition to the 2012 program four years ago. As rugby agreed to abandon its prestigious world cup during Olympic years, some members expressed reservations about adding golf on the theory that athletes would consider Olympic medals less prestigious than other events such as the Masters or British Open.

But the possible addition of Woods is huge gain for the Olympics. Despite the Olympics claims to champion amateurism, professional star power rules and the addition of recognized international sporting figures could encourage television networks and sponsors to spend more money on the Games.

How far will star power get you?

Golf is too much of an individual sport that cannot be measured in Olympic terms--i.e., with a clock or with a final score that decisively tells you who is best. The Olympics are about a person who trains for years to be able to shave a tenth of a second off of a killer exertion against others equally dedicated. Golf is a tremendous sport, but one day of swinging poorly and you're done. Team sports fare better, but that team sport has to have had a tradition of being played. Water polo may make you giggle, but it has more Olympic cachet than rugby ever will. Rugby could catch on, but who knows? That it wasn't already an Olympic sport tells you something.

Golf is really about consistency over an entire tour. That's sort of why we play it that way, as a season, where a golfer has weeks of being down followed by a brilliant set of rounds at a particular course. Condensing a golf tour into an Olympics stand is like a skins game--did the best player win, or did the player who was on the uptick win? What if Tiger goes to the Olympics and is out early due to a poor series of rounds? Does that mean he really isn't the best golfer there?

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