Should the Winter Olympics Have More Global Representation?

singaporesoxfan

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This is repeating some discussion going on elsewhere, but I wanted to focus specifically on whether there should be more global representation at the Winter Olympics, and if so how that can be achieved.

The final medal count for the 2018 Winter Olympics shows that 30 countries were on the podium. (For comparison, 86 NOCs were represented on the podium in the 2016 Summer Games.) Referencing Wikipedia's map that shows countries receiving snowfall (below, with lighter blue representing countries/areas that receive snowfall), there seem to be about 60 countries that receive snowfall at levels below 500m over sea level in at least some part of their territory. The only country that received a Winter Olympics medal that doesn't fit that description is Australia.



Of course this is unsurprising. Because the Winter Olympics is limited to sports that are played on snow and ice, it's the countries that actually see snow and ice regularly are successful. But on the other hand, if you're the IOC, is this really the result you want to see? It limits the potential audience reach for the Winter Games - how much interest will there be in Africa if no African country can even hope of sniffing a medal? - and even in terms of organization dynamics, the IOC itself is made up of countries worldwide, and I would imagine reps from tropical countries aren't necessarily thrilled about not having their countries represented in one of the IOC's premier events. Meanwhile, the Summer Games has a waiting list for sports of vastly greater worldwide popularity than many winter sports - sports such as squash or baseball/softball have had to wait their turn to try to be in the summer Olympics, while sports like ski half-pipe can't even find 24 world class competitors spread across multiple countries globally

As a general sports fan, I like many of the Winter Olympic sports, but as someone from an equatorial country I’ve always hated that the Winter Olympics essentially is the Olympics for countries with seasons / rich first world countries. Growing up without a history of even being physically able to try out the sport in any form, why should I care to watch the Winter Olympics?

So my argument is as follows: you could ameliorate the geographical diversity issue by having some indoor sports moved from the Summer to the Winter games. That way you’d get more global interest in the games - yes, stories like the Jamaican bobsled team are fun, but people want to see their countries have a chance. I mean, basketball was invented specifically as a winter sport! Obviously NBA schedules wouldn’t make moving basketball possible but I was just in Zagreb in January where the European handball tournament was being held – surely sports like handball or taekwondo could be moved to Winter Games. And if you moved enough of the indoor sports, and the right ones, you'd get to see a ton of Olympians from around the world in the games as a whole. I don't know if it would fix the geographical diversity issue for individual sports but it might help individual countries not feel like they should send in non-world-class athletes in the existing winter sports just to be represented on the Olympic stage. And in addition, this would free up some of the logjam and reduce some of the expenses of hosting the Summer Games. (Aside: I think bowling should be a Winter Olympics sport.)

There's admittedly a logistics issue in that Winter Olympics host towns have been relatively small, like PyeongChang. However, I think they could do the thing Summer Olympic host cities do and use facilities in nearby (or even not-so-nearby) large cities to host the indoor events, same way that London had to go outside Greater London to host rowing and sailing.

Of course, an alternative approach is to get countries without snow/ice to increase their interest in snow/ice sports, and perhaps change the Olympic quotas to increase representation from such countries. I think that's possible but I'm skeptical that much will change in the long run if you have a diversity program but keep the same sports. To me it is near-nigh impossible for a good chunk of the world's population to ever be represented in anything but a token way in the current Winter Olympics lineup.

It seems in many cases, when countries from the tropics are represented at the Olympics, it's because people from their diaspora represent them. There's one Singaporean this year in the Winter Games and she's a speed-skater whose family moved to Canada when she was 3. Or see Simidele Adegabo, since she's Canadian-born and American-trained. Presumably when people want geographic diversity they would also like for at least some of that geographically diverse talent to be homegrown, rather than Qatari-style citizenship for athletes just to get onto the Olympic medal board, but getting a pool of talent depends first on having a large enough pool of people who do the sport, and I think snow/ice sports are inherently limited in reach that way. About 40% of the world lives between the tropics, many of them with a snowball's chance in hell of seeing an actual snowball in their own country. Even if some of them might have the innate ability to do sports on ice/snow, they would need access to places to even start doing the sport. I mean, I come from a country where the record lowest temperature is 66F. If I'd stayed in Singapore, how much interest could I ever muster up in skating, even if I saw an athlete skating under the Singapore flag, when I could never do it in real life? Multiply that experience by a couple of billion people.

Another option is to accept the status quo, of course. It's not a bad one in that the Winter Olympics continue to be big business. But thinking from a global business perspective, why limit the market for the Winter Olympics?

What are people's thoughts? Obviously I come at this from a tropical-country-born-and-raised point of view, so it would be great to understand whether this matters to American viewers - does having geographic diversity make a difference to your Olympic experience?
 

BigMike

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Honestly with the exception of some Island Sprinters, and distance runners in Africa. How much representation is there from the the remainder of the world in the Summer Olympics

Sure you could move some of the summer events Wrestling, handball, weightlifting to the winter, but then some of the countries who are only relevant in one sport then become only relevant in summer instead of winter

Ultimately have Olympic sports federations and training world class athletes is exceptionally expensive with small few exceptions (distance runners)
 

InstaFace

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I mean, basketball was invented specifically as a winter sport! Obviously NBA schedules wouldn’t make moving basketball possible but...
Are we sure about this? The NHL has paused the season before. This year the 2 weeks of winter olympics overlapped entirely with the effectively 10-day break for NBA teams for their all-star game. Maybe you just hold the all-star game at the olympics venue, or excuse NBA players who are on their national team, and stretch the ASB by a few days. The international players will be exhausted, but you could make it happen.

Would certainly add a lot of cachet to the event.
 

Papelbon's Poutine

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There's almost three times as many sports in summer as winter; the Olympics.org site lists 42 summer games and 15 for winter. That's going to lead to a disparity in how many countries medal, by default. I don't disagree at all that some should probably be moved over both for balancing that and creating more interest, but also for better viewing. It seemed like all I watched for two weeks was figure skating and curling. When they have their head ski team analyzing practice runs in primetime, it might be time to expand a bit or reshuffle.
 

Montana Fan

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To me, Boxing would be a good add to the winter lineup and might help expand interest and participation as SSF would like to see. Maybe add Judo and Wrestling to the winter games as well.

Edit: these being indoor sports would make them easy to transfer over to the winter games.
 

snowmanny

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It's an interesting thought because I had been feeling turned off by not feeling much authenticity with the Winter Olympics lately. All the fake snow in Korea and Sochi, the boring downhill courses, etc. Maybe I'm romanticizing past Olympics but to me everything looked better in Innsbruck, Lillehammer and so forth and I've been wishing they'd go back to that.

But maybe the answer is to go in the other direction and just make the Winter Olympics something else. Have them in Africa and add non-ice sports.

Can't move gymnastics, though. It's the top Summer sport and a overlaps demographically (in terms of viewers) I imagine with figure skating.
 

singaporesoxfan

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There's almost three times as many sports in summer as winter; the Olympics.org site lists 42 summer games and 15 for winter. That's going to lead to a disparity in how many countries medal, by default. I don't disagree at all that some should probably be moved over both for balancing that and creating more interest, but also for better viewing. It seemed like all I watched for two weeks was figure skating and curling. When they have their head ski team analyzing practice runs in primetime, it might be time to expand a bit or reshuffle.
That's a good point. If you add more sports you can show more actual competition, and with more going on at the same time you have more chances of something dramatic happening at any one time. You might even build up an audience for and therefore interest in the actual winter sports - let's say someone from Thailand or Iran who happened to catch a skeleton race on their country's national broadcast in the dead time between watching their countries' weightlifting champs and got hooked on the sport (the same way that curling has risen in popularity here in the U.S.).

I take @BigMike 's point some countries that are only relevant in one sport, but even so I think overall balance the sports between the two Olympics will increase the IOC's sales of broadcast rights. In part because I think track & field and swimming, the two marquee sports of the Summer Games, are inherently interesting enough to most people that the Summer Olympics broadcast rights won't suffer from losing a couple of other sports, while the Winter Games would get whole new markets.
 

RIFan

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I think the primary issue you will have is the availability of host cities. They are struggling as it is to get cities to bid for the winter Olympics. Add on a requirement of needing more indoor venues in addition to hockey, speed skating, figure skating, and curling and you'll scare away some that may be interested in hosting. The indoor venues that are already required are a burden to otherwise appropriate cities/ regions. I suppose you could team Lillehammer with Oslo for example, but it ups the logistics (and expense) considerably. Technically the 2022 Winter Olympics are being hosted by Beijing, but they are effectively a regional event. Beijing is building a high speed rail line in order to cut the time between locations to 50-60 minutes. They are also going to cover mountains that don't get sufficient snowfall with enough snow to have a viable competition. No one else is going to bear the kind of expense that China will take on to make it happen.
 

Ale Xander

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You could move indoor volleyball to the winter to get interest up in South America and the Balkans. Since for the NCAA the men play in the winter/spring and women in the fall, it's not tied to a season, plus you have beach volleyball for the summer.

And as previously stated, boxing and wrestling are also options.

As for getting Africa interested in the Winter Games, you can't please everyone. Tropics don't have winter.
 

singaporesoxfan

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I think the primary issue you will have is the availability of host cities. They are struggling as it is to get cities to bid for the winter Olympics. Add on a requirement of needing more indoor venues in addition to hockey, speed skating, figure skating, and curling and you'll scare away some that may be interested in hosting. The indoor venues that are already required are a burden to otherwise appropriate cities/ regions. I suppose you could team Lillehammer with Oslo for example, but it ups the logistics (and expense) considerably. Technically the 2022 Winter Olympics are being hosted by Beijing, but they are effectively a regional event. Beijing is building a high speed rail line in order to cut the time between locations to 50-60 minutes. They are also going to cover mountains that don't get sufficient snowfall with enough snow to have a viable competition. No one else is going to bear the kind of expense that China will take on to make it happen.
Yeah, I thought of that but there are a number of indoor Olympic sports that don't really require specialized facilities to be built - I can't imagine weightlifting or judo need that much more than a convention center (here's the list of judo venues in the Olympics). The whole issue with the Winter Olympics hosts seems to be finding cities that can do the actual winter sports facilities for the ski runs etc.; if you had asked Beijing and Almaty to tack on an indoor arena for judo/boxing, they could both easily have rustled up a convention center for the purpose. Of the more recent hosts, I would guess it wouldn't be a burden for Turin and Vancouver to find a university arena or convention center for some sports; Sochi might have been more troubled.

And I think the Olympics are effectively a regional event already - it apparently took 50 minutes to get from Alpensia in Pyeongchang where the ski and outdoor events were to the Gangneung coastal cluster where the curling/skating was.
 

Papelbon's Poutine

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Ratings. Gymnastics and Figure Skating (particularly women's) are two of the biggest ratings winners. They need to keep those separate.
Eyeballs. It and ice skating are the biggest TV draws, so splitting them between years makes sense for advertising rate purposes instead of stacking them within a loaded time.
OK, that makes sense. I'd have guessed track and field was bigger than gymnastics, but either way, I can understand wanting to keep them separate.

Badminton
Boxing
Cycling Track
Fencing
Handball
Judo
Table Tennis
Taekwondo
Indoor Volleyball
Wrestling x 2

Seems like all of those could be moved easily. I'm not sure how much more interest it would bring, but it would balance it out a bit.
 

StupendousMan

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I suspect strongly that NBC and other American networks would oppose having more geographic diversity in the Winter Olympics, because that would decrease the number of medals won by American athletes. As the recent coverage clearly indicated, NBC would rather show interviews and up-close-and-personal segments on photogenic American athletes than show actual competition involving athletes from other countries.

It's simply a matter of economics.
 

singaporesoxfan

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I suspect strongly that NBC and other American networks would oppose having more geographic diversity in the Winter Olympics, because that would decrease the number of medals won by American athletes. As the recent coverage clearly indicated, NBC would rather show interviews and up-close-and-personal segments on photogenic American athletes than show actual competition involving athletes from other countries.

It's simply a matter of economics.
But I’m not proposing making the existing sports more geographically diverse. I’m just suggesting moving some sports over from summer to winter games. If judo moves over and NBC still only wants to focus on US athletes doing traditional winter sports it can still do that and there won’t be any fewer American athletes or fewer American medals for them to focus on.
 

JimD

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NBC wants compelling television. The ideal is to have American competitors in the glamour events like figure skating who have a serious chance to medal, but if that doesn't work out they are more than happy to hype other competitors like the teenaged Russian skaters, Virtue and Moir, etc. Either way there will be lots of 'human interest' stories shown for both American and non-American athletes.
 

Papelbon's Poutine

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I suspect strongly that NBC and other American networks would oppose having more geographic diversity in the Winter Olympics, because that would decrease the number of medals won by American athletes. As the recent coverage clearly indicated, NBC would rather show interviews and up-close-and-personal segments on photogenic American athletes than show actual competition involving athletes from other countries.

It's simply a matter of economics.
They’d be one of how many networks weighing in, around the world? It’s not like the Americans dominated any sport or ran away with the medal count.

The entire point here is to make it more global and more eyeballs. As noted, they had no problem showing plenty of events the US wasn’t in competition for and I was actually quite surprised at how many athletes from other countries spoke English quite well for a quick interview. And they were showing practice ski runs. Practice. In prime time. I get that Vonn was a part of it, but it was practice.
 

cromulence

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They’d be one of how many networks weighing in, around the world? It’s not like the Americans dominated any sport or ran away with the medal count.

The entire point here is to make it more global and more eyeballs. As noted, they had no problem showing plenty of events the US wasn’t in competition for and I was actually quite surprised at how many athletes from other countries spoke English quite well for a quick interview. And they were showing practice ski runs. Practice. In prime time. I get that Vonn was a part of it, but it was practice.
You have to keep in mind that the primetime slot started at 10 AM in Korea. I think that was primarily the reason for showing practice runs - it was either that or taped stuff from the day before, and they showed plenty of that as well.
 

Blue Monkey

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I’m fine with it the way it is currently set up. Is there any event currently in the Winter Olympics that doesn’t involve the event being held on ice or snow? I can’t think of one. That too me is what separates the the summer games from the winter games.
 

Dan Murfman

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I’m fine with it the way it is currently set up. Is there any event currently in the Winter Olympics that doesn’t involve the event being held on ice or snow? I can’t think of one. That too me is what separates the the summer games from the winter games.
The current charter requires sports to be on snow or ice .
 

OurF'ingCity

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Yeah, I'm fine with the current set-up as well. The mistake is in thinking of the two events as the "Summer Olympics" and the "Winter Olympics." Really, it's "the Olympics" (the main event) and "the Winter Olympics" (a bit of a sideshow designed to highlight/reward some niche winter sports and fill the space between the regular Olympics). Not saying I don't enjoy the Winter Olympics but I don't think it was ever really intended to be an equal analogue to the regular Olympics.
 

StupendousMan

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They’d be one of how many networks weighing in, around the world? It’s not like the Americans dominated any sport or ran away with the medal count.
NBC is only one network, true. It's also the only network that has paid the International Olympic Committee $12 billion over the past 7 years to broadcast the games.
 

SumnerH

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Yeah, I'm fine with the current set-up as well. The mistake is in thinking of the two events as the "Summer Olympics" and the "Winter Olympics." Really, it's "the Olympics" (the main event) and "the Winter Olympics" (a bit of a sideshow designed to highlight/reward some niche winter sports and fill the space between the regular Olympics).
"Designed to" implies that was the intent out of the gate, which isn't exactly right.

They actually did have a real Intercalated Games intended to fill the space between the regular Olympics. They were only held once, in 1906 in Athens, but they had a pretty big impact on the structure of the Olympics.

Prior to that, the Olympics were held over the course of several months; the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis had the opening ceremony on July 1 and closing ceremony on November 23. They were generally held as adjuncts to the World's Fair or another large event (except for the inaugural Games), and included scholastic, military, and artistic events as well as athletic ones. And there were weird pseudo-events like kite-flying and life saving. Most of those have been deemed not official Olympic events since, but at the time things were much blurrier.

The Intercalated Games of 1906 operated on an abbreviated schedule and were limited to the athletic/sporting competitions (the idea was to have them every 4 years in Athens while the main Olympics continued offset by 2 years in rotating locations). They also were independent of the World's Fair. They proved a big enough success that while London in 1908 was another prolonged 6-month affair, future Games were restructured to emulate the more compact Intercalated model.

London 1908 was also the first time winter sports were contested; they held figure skating as part of the Games, months later (which is why those Games stretched out to 6 months). There was no split between Summer/Winter games officially, just another couple of months added on to an already prolonged schedule. Figure skating was then rejected at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm: Stockholm was also the ongoing host for the Nordic Games, which it wanted to promote and featured figure skating on their own.

The Nordic games only allowed Nordic countries to participate, though, so the 1916 Olympics planned to add winter sports. Those Games were cancelled due to war, but 1920 added figure skating and hockey to the main Olympics before 1924 saw the debut of a separate Winter Games. The Winter Games were a huge success and the Nordic Games folded after 1926.
 

joe dokes

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Its only relatively recently that the summer and winter games are staggered such that there's one or the other every 2 years. (Thus winter games in 92 and 94.) When both were in the same year, it seemed more of a unitary event ("its an olympic year")