|London, England, site of the 2012 Summer Olympics, which squash just narrowly missed being a part of|
In order for a new sport to get voted into the Olympics, first it needs to be recognized by the Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF), a sister organization to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This body essentially monitors the 'B list' of sports that are not in the Olympics but perhaps could be. They facilitate a big convention on a regular basis called SportAccord. Delegates from all of the member federations of the B list sports (e.g. squash, karate, bowling, motorcycling, surfing) come to these conventions to showcase their sports and share ideas with others and attempt to get the visibility that is required in order to get onto the Olympic A list. How this appears to happen is the IOC appoints a working group (referred to as the Olympic Program Commission) of IOC officials and members to talk with the ARISF and attend SportAccord and review the candidate sports over a period of time. This working group then comes up with a recommendation for which sports to consider for inclusion in the Games, and which to not consider. They followed this approach with the choice of cities and prepared a report that essentially ranked their choices for which city should host the 2020 Summer Games.
The fifteen person IOC Executive Board then meets to review the working group proposals. The Board votes for which city or sport in a blind ballot and then this decision needs to get ratified in a vote by the broader IOC session where around one hundred individuals will vote (the representatives of the sports being voted on are disqualified from voting). The IOC session comprises over one hundred individuals that are primarily the heads of the Olympic committee from all the major participating countries, as well as the heads of the various international sporting federations, amongst a few others (honorary members).
In 2005 at the meeting of the fifteen person Board in which they decided upon whether or not to include new sports for the London Olympics, both squash and karate obtained the requisite majority vote in that meeting in order to be added to the Games. This decision then needed to be ratified by the broader one hundred person IOC session. A majority of votes at this session is required in order to vote a new sports federation (e.g. the World Squash Federation) into the IOC and hence, effectively, make its sport a part of the Games. At the session in 2005 where squash and karate were decided upon, a two thirds majority of the approximately one hundred attendees was required in order to ratify the prior decision of the Board to include those two sports. As it turned out, both squash and karate got the majority vote (greater than 50%), but neither won a two thirds majority at the general session so neither Board decision got ratified. Remember, this was already after the IOC Executive Board had voted those two sports in. A sad and embarrassing situation indeed.
It is not surprising that the Board voted squash in as the sport is relatively well represented. Three of the fifteen Board members list squash as a sport they play. I checked on this and it makes sense. One of them went to St. Andrews University in Scotland and another went to Oxford in England, both are institutions where squash is a well known sport and is played by many students. The third member is president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, whose headquarters happen to be a short walk from a wonderful club in Howth - the beautiful northern peninsula of Dublin Bay - where this gentleman quite likely plays his squash, and his tennis. The fact that Jacques Rogge, the president of the IOC, played rugby for his country of Belgium means he too would have been exposed to the game of squash. The two sports of squash and rugby often go hand in hand. Many rugby players play squash to supplement their fitness work off the pitch and the clubs are often combined in some way. Squash is a good way to keep fit for rugby but avoid the high risk of injury that comes with actually playing rugby. This leads me to the circumstances during the subsequent decision for the 2016 Games.
The sports voted in for 2016 were golf and rugby sevens. There are a few things that are quite notable about this. 1) The president of the IOC is obviously a rugby supporter and, based on subsequent press releases, was clearly delighted with the decision. Note that the president does not get a vote on the sports decision, so rugby sevens was voted in by the other fourteen members of the board (who are not influenced by the president at all). 2) The two sports federations in question, the International Rugby Board and International Golf Federation, had been previously voted out of the IOC. Rugby in 1924 and golf in 1904. 3) The only reason two new sports got in for 2016 was because baseball and softball got kicked out, something which also does not happen very often either (only fourteen sports in the history of the Summer Olympics). 4) Between the time that squash and karate missed out (because of the two thirds majority requirement) the rules were changed and only a simple majority (50%) of votes at the IOC session was needed to get rugby sevens and golf confirmed, so these two sports had an easier path in. A tough break for squash and karate because they had both achieved the 50% majority at the previous IOC session. If this lowered hurdle was brought into effect slightly earlier, squash and karate would have replaced baseball and softball in the Olympics.
So, looking forward to next year when the whole process likely repeats itself: The SportAccord convention is in St Petersburg, Russia at the end of May. The IOC session is in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 2013. Voting on which sports to include or exclude is not offically on the agenda for this IOC session yet, but it will be if the Board members make a decision themselves regarding the sports program and require ratification thereof. So sometime around July next year the Board will hopefully meet and review the outcome of SportAccord, listen to the valuable input of the ARISF and consider the recommendations of the internal working group (aka the Olympic Program Commission). The IOC is not required to review the Olympic sports program at fixed intervals, but does do this periodically. It sounds like they will be doing this next year. The Olympic Program Commission is responsible for reviewing and analysing the program of sports, disciplines and events, as well as the number of athletes in each sport. The Commission will make recommendations in this regard to the IOC Executive Board who then vote on what changes they want to make, or don't want to make.
If the fact that we are pretty much completely at the mercy of the IOC Executive Board is not enough bad news, this next piece of information is the real kick in the pants... so you may want to sit down for this one. Years ago the IOC decided to limit the number of member federations to twenty eight, and, with golf and rugby sevens on the A list, they are now at that limit. What this means is that in order for a new sport to be added either 1) the Olympic Charter itself will have to be changed to increase the potential number of member federations or 2) one of the existing twenty eight federations will have to get kicked out of the IOC to make place for a new member. And changing the Olympic Charter to increase the number of sports will require not a simple majority of 50%, but rather this change will require a two thirds majority vote at the IOC session. Can you believe our luck? We missed the cut previously because of the swing vote of a small handful of no more than fifteen IOC members who did not think that the sport was ready for the Games (or just did not know enough about it), and now we will potentially be reliant on that same small group in order to get in for 2020. Who knows how much resistance there will be to changing the Olympic charter, it won’t be insignificant though I am sure. The odds are stacked against us and the path of least resistance for a new sport to get into the Olympics would, unfortunately, most likely be if one of the existing sports gets voted out.
Update after IOC vote in Buenos Aires in September 2013:
Well, squash theoretically got what it needed and a sporting federation was voted out of the IOC in February 2013. Unfortunately, FILA got voted right back in on September 8th. This potentially closed the door on squash as the Olympic Charter says there is a maximum of 28 sports (see rule 2.1.4). So the fastest way for squash to get in now, short of re-applying as per usual in four years time, is if 1) the Olympic Charter gets changed (not likely) or 2) the sports program is no longer tied to the 28 federations but focuses on individual disciplines/events (more likely).
I believe option 2 is what the new IOC president, Thomas Bach, is pushing for. In anticipation of being elected president, he wrote and distributed a 15 page manifesto entitled 'Unity in Diversty' to the IOC membership in June of this year. This document is not public but apparently it lays out how the sports program could be changed to accomodate new sports (by focusing on disciplines not sporting federations). Bach is an Olympic gold medalist himself and turned to sports administration after being denied the opportunity to compete in the Moscow 1980 Games - this was owing purely to politics and nothing else. So, Thomas Bach has spent much his career fighting for the rights of athletes. The day after being elected IOC president, Bach said in a BBC interview "I feel sorry for those sports (squash and baseball/softball) because you can see how much they did to develop their sport in the past, how much they changed and they gave excellent presentations...we should find a way of how we can stay in touch with these federations and how together we can bring them closer to the Olympic movement."
One of the obligations of the IOC president is to ensure that the Olympics 'continues to remain relevant in the world and changes for the better with the times'. This objective, along with the fact that Bach knows the pain of not being allowed to compete owing to politics, should see an evolution in the Olympic sports program. And that may prove to be good news for the sport of squash. Only time will tell.
It is out of our hands now.
|Learn more at www.worldsquash.org|