Sports you won’t see at the London 2012 Olympics

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An occasion harking back to ancient times, the London 2012 Olympics will feature 26 sports and a total of 302 separate events. New events are added at every Games; while fresh sports are introduced, the less fortunate (or perhaps less popular, or more arcane) are shown the door. The least successful of all have been both debuted and booted at the same Games.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics introduced BMX racing while discontinuing both baseball and softball. At the infamous 1936 Berlin Games, polo was axed and the canoe and kayak-sprint races were introduced – a sports substitute which should strike every Briton to the core, considering we were the world champions of polo but are currently ranked only 27th best at canoe and kayak-sprinting (whatever that is).

Created many moons ago in Ancient Greece, the Olympics were one of four of the Panhellenic Games competitions held to stop men waging war on one another (see our blog on Ancient Nemea). Despite their symbolising fair play, athleticism and the Platonic ideal of human physical ability, here are just a few Olympic sports which, nevertheless, won’t be coming to London 2012. 

(introduced 1900 | discontinued 1920)
Yes, believe it or not, the tug of war was officially recognised as a sport for a fifth of the history of the modern Olympics. Considered part of the athletics programme, the tug of war consisted of five burly guys yanking against five other burly guys – the object of the game being to pull the centre marker on the rope over on to your side of the field. The game was discontinued, not because it’s not really a sport, but because multiple club entries were allowed from different countries, resulting in single nations dominating the podium each year.

What does it mean for Team GB? With a total of five medals (2G:2S:1B) over just six Olympics, if this event was still in the Olympics it would be a guaranteed medal-spinner for Team GB.

(introduced 1900 | discontinued 1900)
Favoured by PG Wodehouse characters and the retired, croquet was a shambles at the 1900 Paris Games. Not only were nine of the ten competitors French (the tenth was Belgian), but the ‘winners’ of the doubles competition had no opponents. At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, a variant of croquet called roque – played on a smooth hard-court – was introduced.  Despite being nicknamed ‘the game of the century’ by enthusiasts, it was discontinued the same year for being played exclusively by Americans.

What does it mean for Team GB? Only France and Belgium competed in the 1900 Olympic croquet competition. France picked up seven medals; Belgium had their travel expenses paid for. On Team GB, Wooster was keen for a game, but Jeeves said it wouldn’t be prudent and hid his clubs.

(introduced 1900 | discontinued 1900)
Also known as Cesta Punta, zesta-punta and Jai Alai, for the majority of the 20th century pelota was one of the most popular sports in Spain, France, Central and South America. Nicknamed ‘the fastest sport in the world’, it consists of using what looks like a wicker baseball glove to hurl a cricket ball around two-thirds of a giant squash court. Still popular to this day, the game was discontinued as there were not enough countries to play more than one match.

What does it mean for Team GB? Dominated by Spain and France – chiefly because only these two nations played Basque Pelota – had Team GB known the rules of the game, I’m sure they would have licked ‘em.

(introduced 1900 | discontinued 1900)
Well, we all know what cricket is, don’t we? We’re actually good at the sport (no-one mention the recent test match)! The question is: why isn’t it in the 2012 London Olympics? At the 1900 Paris Olympics, a single game of cricket was played in the centre of the Vélodrome de Vincennes, pitting the Devon & Somerset Wanderers (GB) against a motley crew of British expats who just happened to be up for a bit of leather-on-willow – even if it meant representing France. The two teams were entirely unaware they were competing at the Olympics and thought, instead, that this was just a friendly display for the Exposition Universelle, a world fair held in Paris that year. Needless to say, Britain won gold and the British expats followed up with silver. The main reason cricket isn’t an Olympic sport – other than the sheer embarrassment of the 1900 hotch-potch – is because each individual game is too long.

What does it mean for Team GB? Undisputed Olympic champions for 112 years – without cricket, Team GB has been robbed of yet another (almost) certain medal at London 2012.

(introduced 1908 | discontinued 1908) 

Dating back to the medieval period (“tennis balls, my liege?” Henry V) and listed next to hunting and weddings as one of his top three interests, real tennis was popularised in Great Britain by the notorious Henry VIII. It therefore seems fitting that at the 1908 Games in London, for one year only, the sport was raised to Olympic status at the revered Queen’s Club in West Kensington. The sport was discontinued the same year due to lack of competing nations.  It differs from our normal tennis chiefly by being played entirely indoors, in a squash court-style setting (plus a net), and remains a sport in its own right.

What does it mean for Team GB? In spite of outnumbering USA 9-2 in players, Team GB only managed to pick up silver and bronze in 1908. It’s probably for the best that the Olympic committee gave this one the chop. I’m sensing a Murray moment coming on.

(Anthony Sebastian)


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