Should the Olympics knock off the racket?

Source:Global Times Published: 2013-6-19 19:18:01

Illustration: Peter. C. Espina/GT

Illustration: Peter. C. Espina/GT

Editor's Note:

June 23 is International Olympic Day, which marks the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894. To commemorate the milestone, Two Cents tackles the controversial debate of whether badminton and table tennis should be dropped as Olympic sports. China's unrivaled dominance in both sports sparked rumors after the 2012 London Olympics that some members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were considering expelling the sports from the Olympics. Today, Two Cents serves up both sides of the debate.

China's dominance destroying badminton and table tennis

By Tom Fearon

During high school, my favorite subject at school was physical education (PE). As teenagers raging with hormones at an all-boys school, the subject gave many of us the chance to release adolescence angst accumulated from poor grades and poorer luck with girls.

The only problem was choosing a sport everyone could enjoy. Soccer was always dominated by the Italian kids. Rugby saw the taller, hairier boys trample the puberty-challenged ones. And fencing allowed diminutive yet academic students to outwit their brutish, dim-witted rivals.

The IOC faces the same dilemma my PE teacher faced years ago: dropping exclusive sports that lack the spirit of fair play. The first step toward restoring prestige and sportsmanship at the Olympics is scrapping badminton and table tennis.

In 2005, the IOC voted to drop baseball and softball as Olympic sports due to US dominance and both sports' limited global appeal. The decision was naturally unpopular among those in the sports, but their absence hardly diminished the 2012 London Olympics' appeal.

For the past 20 years, badminton and table tennis have been spiraling down a similar path due to China's dominance. Since badminton's debut at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, China has won 16 gold in the sport - more than double the combined tally of the two next best countries, South Korea and Indonesia.

In table tennis the situation is even more lopsided, with China boasting 24 of 28 gold medals awarded since the sport was adopted by the Olympics in 1988.

If China's stranglehold on badminton and table tennis continues, it will be "game, set, match" for both sports. Through no fault of its own, China has raised the bar of competition so high and so fast that the rest of the world has been left far behind. Even Chinese audiences struggle to get excited watching their compatriot badminton and table tennis stars square off against each other in medal-deciding matches.

Adrian Liu, who plays for Canada's national badminton team, noted at the 2011 Pan American Games foreign players can't match the intensity of their Chinese opponents' training regimes.

"The Chinese players train three times a day, while most Canadian players only train once a day," Liu, who is of Chinese descent, told the Xinhua News Agency during the tournament.

International audiences are also tiring of the "all-China show" in both sports. Tickets for table tennis matches at last year's London Olympics failed to sell out, while in badminton two Chinese were among eight players disqualified after deliberately trying to lose in order to manipulate the draw.

Now, it is time for the IOC to step in and temporarily remove the sports from the Olympics while the rest of the world catches up to China's level. Many countries have already wisely taken the initiative by hiring Chinese coaches, and many China-born players compete for fledgling badminton and table tennis countries. However, other countries' focus should be on cultivating grass-roots talent instead of relying on Chinese imports.  

Rather than being rigid, the Olympics should reflect the growth and decline of sports. This has already been displayed by the IOC dropping wrestling and adopting golf.

IOC founder and father of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, famously once said: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part." But how many youngsters around the world will be inspired in future to take part in sports where success seems intrinsically linked to being Chinese?

Olympics cannot afford to drop two of its most popular sports

By Li Ying

China's dominance in badminton and table tennis has been blamed for decreasing the popularity of both sports worldwide, prompting rumors they could be dropped from the Olympic Games. Speculation of such action arises every time Chinese players triumph at international competitions.

Despite heated public debate over whether both sports should stay or go, however, there is plenty of evidence to support their legitimacy as two of the 26 summer Olympic sports.

On May 29, the IOC released rankings of the 26 sports' federations based on their contributions to Olympic revenue.

Before the 2012 London Olympics, the sports were classified into four tiers to determine their share of $519 million in revenue. The Games' flagship sport, athletics, was the only one to rank in the top tier, whereas table tennis and badminton were in the lowest tier.

The commission recently redivided the 26 sports into five tiers ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. On this occasion, table tennis and badminton ranked in the third tier above sports including equestrian, fencing and golf.

The new rankings defy any notion of badminton and table tennis being in "crisis." But it is worth examining why the IOC insists on keeping both sports despite all their gold medals being won by Chinese athletes. The answer lies in the criteria of the ranking system for Olympic sports.

TV ratings are one of the most important factors, with broadcast earnings accounting for a large part of IOC revenue.

Table tennis is one of the most-watched sports on China's main sports broadcaster CCTV-5, with 967 million cumulative viewers in 2012. It's not just Chinese viewers who are hooked on table tennis, either. In Germany, the sport ranks third behind athletics and swimming in most-watched Olympic sports.

Other factors that determine an Olympic sport's legitimacy include the number of participating countries and regions, scope of media coverage and sponsorship of the sport.

Both badminton and table tennis score well in all these areas. The International Table Tennis Federation has 217 member associations, ranking second in all the sports, while the World Badminton Federation has 177 member associations.

Although the IOC has no grounds to expel either sport from the Olympics, concern about China's dominance harming both games persists.

In 2009, the Chinese Table Tennis Association launched its "wolf-raising" scheme that involved sending elite coaches overseas and inviting foreign players to be trained in China. The program reflects China's desire to promote table tennis worldwide and lift standards overseas.

At the 2013 World Table Tennis Championships in May, China claimed three titles in five programs - its worst result at the tournament over the past decade.

Of course, badminton and table tennis have their own disadvantages. They are far less popular globally among spectators than, say, soccer, basketball, swimming and athletics.

Apart from its mantra of "faster, stronger, higher," the Olympic spirit is about inspiring more people to participate in sport. This also explains why badminton and table tennis enjoy huge popularity in China. They are inclusive and far cheaper to play compared to other Olympic sports such as equestrian or golf, which often require club membership and huge costs.

Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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