We all know lacrosse is not the answer to the question, “What is the best Olympic sport?”, simply because it is NOT an Olympic sport… pretty simple. Since it’s an interesting topic, I’ll go in-depth on how lacrosse could become an Olympic sport later this week. But for now we’re asking, what is the best Summer Olympic sport, and WHY?
I’m looking for a sport that truly shines on the Olympic stage. The Olympics can’t be the backdrop to the greatest of the sport, for the sport to be my best. The Olympics must be bigger, and elevate the sport’s prominence. The Olympics should be the sport’s biggest stage, its Gold Medal event, and its highest honor, and there can be no doubt there.
I’m also looking for a sport with low barriers to entry, and one that can be played by a large number of nations. This means special facilities should not be required, and equipment can not be too expensive. The proof is in the pudding here. Do lots of countries play the sport? Could you set up this sport in your town for under $2,000? Then it hits the mark of being cost effective!
Finally, I’m looking for a sport that relies on skill AND athleticism, and if it is to be a team sport, then teamwork as well. Sports that rely on pure athleticism more favor larger countries over small countries, at least more than skill heavy sports, in my opinion, and that is where this final criteria point comes from.
Finding A Winner:
Let’s eliminate some sports from contention right away, like Soccer, Cycling, Tennis, Basketball and Equestrian. I have nothing against any of these sports, and in fact I like all of them, but each pales in comparison to other events within their respective world.
The World Cup, Tour De France, Grand Slams events, NBA and Equestrian Circuits can all hold more meaning than the Olympics. These aren’t just Olympic sports, these are WORLD sports, and they are out for me. Then we can eliminate the sports with an extremely high barrier to entry, which can be associated with costs to play the game, training facilities, etc.
For me, Archery (the goods are expensive), Swimming & Diving (facilities cost), Rowing, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Rowing, Shooting, Trampoline and Water Polo are all eliminated under the second criteria point. All great sports, and many of them classic, but it can be no surprise that the same countries continually show up in sports like Swimming, Archery and Gymnastics. It’s not easy to be good, and without access to top notch facilities and training, other nations can not compete.
My last point is to eliminate sports that rely too heavily on pure athleticism, or pure skill. I want a mix of the two, and believe that having a mix of athletic and skill requirements creates the most opportunity for parity and ease of access. This eliminates pretty much all of the racing sports that aren’t out already, like Track and Field, Canoe events, Pentathalon, Triathalon and Weightlifting.
This leaves us with only a couple of sports left, and they are: Judo, Field Hockey, Handball, Badminton, Beach Volleyball, Volleyball, Boxing, Table Tennis, Taekwondo and Wrestling.
These sports can conveniently be broken down into three groups: Team Sports (handball, field hockey), Combat Sports (judo, boxing, taekwondo, wrestling), and Net Sports (badminton, volleyball, beach volleyball, table tennis).
And from here on, it all becomes a point of COMPLETE personal preference.
For my money, I’ll take sports like Field Hockey and Handball any day. Both rely on skill AND natural athletic ability. Plus they could wear these Gold Medal shorts! A truly great player can not lack in either capacity in either sport, but at the same time, one can also make up for a lack of one with the other and still be competitive.
These two sports are also still quite amateur, and yet the bring with them fantastic action, good scoring, and wonderful team play. Lots of countries play them already, and many more could easily start. These are accessible and fun sports, and perfect for the Olympics.
The Net Sports are all great, and maybe it’s just my American bias showing, but I just don’t think they show off a country personality like a good team sport can do. I also enjoy the Combat Sports, and understand that they are skilled, and not true fighting, but at the Olympics I prefer to stay away from innately combative sports as my favorite.
When it comes down to choosing between Field Hockey and Handball, I have to go with Handball. You CAN play FH on a grass field, or a turf field without water, but it’s just not the same. The requirement of a super flat surface finally knocks Field Hockey out and we have a winner: Handball!
Tons of scoring, athleticism and skill in a good combination is key and anyone can play the game. Building a goal is cheap, and the ball is basically just a small soccer ball. The sport could be played almost anywhere, and any team could come up with their own system of play and strategy. It’s still a small sport, and it shines brightest on the Olympic World stage. For that reason, Handball the best Olympic Sport… well, at least until they add lacrosse.