What Makes a Sport an Olympic Sport?

Ever since the opening ceremonies aired last week, my boyfriend and I have been disputing the validity of basketball as an Olympic sport. I usually provoke the argument with a mature observation like this one: “Basketball is a stupid sport for the Olympics.”

Kurt looks at me like I’ve just slandered his gramdmother’s reputation. “Now why would you say a mean thing like that?”

“‘Cause it is. It takes over sports television from November to April. Why does it have to steal the Olympics’ thunder too?”

“But basketball is just as internationally popular as your gymnastics and marathoning.” Then he recites the names of seven famous Chinese and four Lithuanian basketball players from memory. “And besides,” he adds, “just be glad that American football isn’t an international sport.”

I have to admit he makes a good point. If, in addition to monopolizing Kurt’s attention every Sunday night for the entire fall season AND my birthday weekend (the same as the Superbowl), football took on international acclaim, I’d probably move to Mars. So I shrug and drop the argument.

But then inevitably I pick it up again within the hour: “Why does basketball get to be an Olympic sport and not something cool, like trampolining?”

“Trampolining is an Olympic sport.”
“Look, don’t be mad just ’cause you ain’t a baller like LeBron James.”

It’s true. Unfortunately, the facts that I’m from Springfield, Mass. (the hometown of basketball) and that I’m 5’10” do not automatically render me able to shoot hoops. I’m no gymnast either, or a swimmer, although I have put in about as many hours as it would take to train for the Olympics just watching those events on television.

Then what’s the problem with basketball? According to www.dictionary.com, “sport” is defined as “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.” To become part of the Olympics, a sport must be represented by an international governing body and approved by the International Olympic Committee. So basically, all of the games on this year’s docket have every right to be Olympic sports, and I should stop complaining. Correct?

False! I’ll never stop complaining. Here’s the thing. The ancient Olympics showcased only six events: running, equestrian games, the pentathlon, boxing, wresling, and – my favorite – pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling that also feature biting and eye-gouging). All of these involved two or more opponents in direct competition against one another, and the winner was draped in laurels and revered for his superlative, god-like strength. To me, in addition to national pride of course, the Olympics represent one person proving that he or she is mightier than all the rest.

Teams, on the other hand, work as a cohesive unit. Where one person falters, another jumps in to help, and there is no single winner. Every time I see a basketball team step onto a podium to receive a dozen or more gold medals, I think of something my father likes to say:

“What is this, hug-a-bunch?”

To be fair, it’s not just basketball that seems out of place at the summer Olympic games. There’s also soccer, badminton, and volleyball, although I must admit that watching the vicious badminton tournaments and the controversy over female volleyball players’ uniforms this year have made the latter two events fun to watch.

So anyway, if anyone from the Olympics governance board happens to be browsing the Internet and lands on this page, please consider the following list of excellent alternatives to team sporting events in upcoming summer games:

Tug-of-war. Note that this was actually an Olympic event in the past.
Ballroom dancing, especially relevant since Dancing with the Stars has attracted world-class players like Hines Ward (football), Stacy Keibler (wrestling), Clyde Drexler (basketball), and Master P (rap music).
Typing. It’s just that I’m really pretty incredible at this and I’d like to pit myself against world-class typists. Mavis Beacon, you and I will bring down nations with our flying fingers!
Card-playing. Especially Hearts. I’m great at Hearts.
Pole dancing, In case the Olympics governance board is worried about the effect of nixing basketball on the ratings.
Gardening. If you’re chuckling about this one, go and plant a honeydew melon in your back yard and see what happens. Do you have what it takes?

Photo courtesy of www.zimbio.com

Mari Zagarins

When Mari isn't running, biking, hiking, or jumping-jacking in and around her home in Montpelier, she is practicing her facial expressions in the mirror and contemplating whether she should learn to swim.