It’s hard not to love the Olympics. There’s the specialness of the event only happening every 4th year, the fun of international competition, and the odd sports no one has ever heard of. Sometimes they are just sports that aren’t played much in the US, but are popular elsewhere, like handball or water polo. Other times the sports are simply odd and have a debatable place among the elite events of the Olympics. One could contest well over a dozen of the Olympic events for their relevancy at this point, but for this post we’ll stick to just six.
Some events are redundant, while others are simply antiquated. It isn’t perhaps necessary to have badminton, ping-pong, and tennis. And sports like rugby and cricket are much a lot more around the world than archery. It’s understandable they must compete with team events, but baseball and softball have already been nixed so there’s room.
My point is that there are lots of sports that should either not be in the games and are, or aren’t and should be in. Today we’ll focus on six that should perhaps get the ax, and explain why with some economic concepts.
Dressage: Problem: Stinks of the 1%. Dressage is a horse riding competition that more or less amounts to horse dancing. While that’s impressive, it’s still not all that great. It’s something that clearly grew out of horse riders wanting something challenging. But like most horse events, dressage is expensive. Horses can cost up into the 6 figures and even cheap horses at best are very expensive hobbies. Dressage has to compete with other horse events, and is extremely expensive. Coupled with the bad PR over the Romneys owning a horse in the competition, this is a sport that stinks of upper class boredom and no one watches it. Time to go. If dressage is an Olympic sport, then polo should be too.
Beach Volleyball: Problem: Inefficient. Why are we seeing essentially the same sport in multiple venues? There’s already regular volleyball, but we must also have a form a volleyball started by 20th century California beach brats. Made popular of course by Zach Morris and the Saved by the Bell gang, beach volleyball is more interesting, and entertaining to watch. However, of the two sports, the beach version would be likely to get cut. We don’t need two teams doing basically the same thing. If beach volleyball is an Olympic sport, then street basketball should be too.
Mountain Biking: Problem: Was already replaced by BMX. Would you take two departments at a company that do the same thing and keep allowing them to do it? No, you’d stick with the one that does it better. BMX basically took mountain biking and put it on a track. They improved the formula and made it more interesting to watch. In an interesting twist, traditional cycling is more interesting to watch outside of a track than in an arena, but also remains a sport. So what we have are 4 cycling sports two on a track and two more in nature. So stick with the two most popular and ditch the rest. If mountain biking is an Olympic sport, then parkour should be too.
Freestyle Wrestling: Problem: Plays by different rules. What if one set of banks had to break apart the investment and commercial side, while others did not. You’d see multiple types of firms, competing in the same space, with different rules. Freestyle wrestling is basically the same as the more traditionally named Greco-Roman wrestling other than a couple of rules about throwing and tripping. But it’s not so distinctive that the two sports couldn’t be combined or one eliminated. Just let everyone compete with the same rules and we can find out who the truly best wrestler in the world is. If freestyle wrestling is an Olympic sport, then all the different ways to throw javelin, throw discuss, jump, and run (including walking which was an event) should be too.
Badminton: Problem: Created by bored British people. Badminton was born out of stationed British officers with nothing else to do. Unlike tennis, it can be played without breaking a sweat. Sure, at the Olympic level it takes skill and can be fun to watch, but it’s just one of many backyard games from the 1800s that evolved into tennis. Tennis is the culmination of these games and became a true sport. Badminton belongs in back yards. The sport is like the gold standard, it served its purpose years ago but evolved into something with more global appeal. If badminton is an Olympic sport, then cornhole should be too.
Modern Pentathlon: Problem: no specialization. The pentathlon was originally designed to showcase all the talents that make for a great soldier. Today it showcases five events: fencing, shooting, swimming, running, and horseback riding. The only more perplexing event in all of Olympics today is the biathlon in the winter games, an event Robin Williams explains (among other things) here (WARNING: VERY NSFW CONTENT). The Olympics today though is not about what makes a great soldier, it almost stands for the opposite. In economics we talk about specializing skills to be more efficient. The pentathlon is the epitome of UNspecialized skills. These people are the best at nothing, which isn’t what we want to see in the games. And no one cares about great soldiers anymore. If we did for the Olympics, let’s make it truly modern and ditch the sword play and horseback riding for geocaching and Humvee driving. If modern pentathlon is an Olympic sport, then American Gladiators should be too.
There is no disrespect in this list. Some of these sports can be fun to watch, especially volleyball. But in a rational conversation these just don’t make much sense. Of course I lack the resources to properly evaluate one sport over the other, so consider this post the start of a mostly thought-provoking conversation. If you want to defend one of these sports, or know of another that should be eliminated, put it in the comments.