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Playing games with sport

The Olympic Games (coming to Paris in 2024) used to be a simple set up consisting, originally, of boxing, chariot racing, fighting (Pankration), pentathlon, running and wrestling.

The 1896 Games had nine sports but the 2020 Games will have 33. The list for Paris may well beat that but it is impossible not to notice that the difference between a sport and an Olympic sport is somewhat arbitrary. It partly depends on the definition of a game and a sport but also on what is likely to draw in young urban spectators.

Dancing and wake-boarding (a kind of water-skiing – hardly a sport available to the masses) are under consideration whereas cricket has never cut the mustard (it was played once in 1900 and that was that).

While we should be grateful croquet, motor boating and tug-of-war are no longer in the programme, it is worth asking whether there are not too many events and whether pastimes deserve Olympic status. Golf, climbing and surfing obviously have aficionados but are they in the same league as core sports of athletics, swimming and gymnastics? It is heresy to say it, but pétanque (one possible for Paris, see page 5) belongs under the plane trees of France’s boulodromes and village squares, not in an international competition.

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