Get rid of the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics should be abandoned. Take away its rings and its eternal flame. It is polluting the concept of Olympics – Sport for All. Only 26 of the 200-something countries in the world got on the medal table.

Image

The games are so hopelessly skewed to the richer and/or more snowy bits of the world that most countries cannot compete.

Three African countries were able to send representatives to Sochi. That’s not so bad, you may think, til you dig a bit deeper and find they are “representatives” in name only.

Zimbabwe sent 20 year old Luke Steyn, who was coming 59th in the Slalom after his first run, and it only got worse from there, ending in a DNF. He has lived in Switzerland for the last 18 years.

Morocco sent two Alpine skiers, who performed perfectly credibly.

Kenzo Tazi: “When her family moved from London, England to the French Alps in 2007, she was able to begin skiing competitively.” and

Adam Lamhamedi: “I was born in Quebec and I grew up there, and I went through the Skibec alpine system. I’m just like any other kid from Charlesbourg. But I am lucky enough to have a Moroccan father.”

Togo sent a skier who had long competed for France, Mathilde Amivi PetitJean

“In May 2013 she was contacted by the Togolese Skiing Federation via her Facebook page with an offer to compete for the west African nation. “If I was told I would one day compete at the Olympic Games, I would never have believed it would be in the colours of Togo.” 

The second Togo athlete is 18 year old Italian Alessia Afi DiPol. “My father has a factory in Togo that specialises in sports clothes. He has a feeling for the nation, and I have an opportunity to run for Togo, and I am proud of this.”

Yep.

There is not much Africa in the Winter Olympics. A billion people without a medal. Here’s a graph that compares that result with Norway (population 5 million.)

Image

Norway won 26 medals, coming third on the medal tally, behind the hosts, Russia, with 33, and the US, with 28.

Its Scandinavian comrades were not too far behind. Sweden snagged 15. Finland got five. 

Here’s another way of looking at how narrowly held Winter Olympic glory is. You could go through those four adjacent countries – that won 27 per cent of the total medals – in one day, stopping for petrol maybe once (and getting caught in some Swedish roadworks apparently).

Image

Now, the Summer Olympics is not fair either. Rich countries win most of the medals. But poor countries at least have a chance. India wins a medal or two. So do Brazil, Iran and Indonesia. And Kenya. Especially Kenya.

Image

In 2012, There were 86 countries that medalled in the summer Olympics, or as I call them, the real Olympics. All continents were represented. That’s a result worthy of the five Olympic rings.

But, but, but… winter?

No.

Countries are on the equator don’t really get a winter. Winter, snow, ice and the Winter Olympics along with them, are geographically specialised concepts in a way the Summer Olympics isn’t. You can run 100 metres at minus 10 degrees or plus 40.

Not to mention the equipment. I bet you ten dong that people in Vietnam look at skis, snowboards and ice-skates with the sort of skepticism I reserve for bobsleds and skeletons. I just googled and there is nowhere in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, to buy a snowboard. The Winter Olympics are just a fantasy realm of preposterousness for billions of people. 

I feel qualified to say all this because I love winter sports. But I love AFL too, and I’m not campaigning for a special Olympics for sports played inside ovals. I think the Olympics should be about giving as many people as possible a chance.

Sports being excluded from the summer olympics for being insufficiently popular include baseball, with 35 million global participants. They almost cut wrestling out too. Meanwhile, the winter Olympics carries on with Biathlon and four versions of ski racing: Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom and Slalom. 

Amazed? I’ll tell you why we get a winter Olympics despite most of the world’s population living near the equator.  Most of the world’s wealth is located far from the equator.

Is that right?

The Olympics is a special thing. An inclusive thing. The Olympic Charter says:

“The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

It’s a shame the populations of Africa and South America are excluded from that every four years.

We talked about bad brand extensions the other day. The winter Olympics is one. They drag down what the Olympics are supposed to be all about. 

I bet Norwegians and Canadians are getting all upset round about now. Don’t worry. I do believe you should still be able to put your tuques on for a big winter sports party every four years. But you should not be allowed to call it the Olympics.