2016 Olympics: New Events Debuting in Rio
Golf, sevens rugby and kitesurfing take center stage at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The 2016 Games will hold 28 sports and 38 disciplines in total; golf and sevens rugby were voted into the final two spots of competition, and kitesurfing replaces windsurfing in the program.
While kitesurfing, a relatively new sport overall, will be making its Olympic debut, golf and rugby will be making their Olympic return. Fifteen-man rugby had previously been an Olympic sport, debuting in Paris in 1900, but made its final appearance in the 1924 Games (in Paris, coincidentally). Golf will be making its first appearance in the Olympic programme in 112 years.
Let’s take a look at these three new Olympic sports and what issues are surrounding their inclusion in the 2016 Rio Games.
Golf’s Olympic format proposed for the 2016 games is an individual-based competition. The qualified golfers will play 72 holes of stroke-play on several top-level golf courses (TBD) throughout Brazil.
Sixty golfers will compete in the men’s and women’s competitions. The outright winner of the competition will be the Olympic champion and gold medalist for their country.
If there are any ties for a medal, a three-hole playoff will be used to determine the tiebreaker.
The 60 participants for both the men's and women's competitions initially will qualify through the World Golf Rankings.The Top 15 golfers will automatically be awarded an Olympic berth, void of how many players represent a given country.
The rest of the top 60 will be determined by world ranking as well, but with emphasis on no more than two players from each country from this pool.
As of 2009, when the decision to have Olympic golf was announced, 33 countries were in line to participate in Olympic play.
Superstar Golfers on Olympics Stage
Golf superstars Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam have indicated interest in participating in the Rio Games, which will certainly increase the sport’s popularity worldwide.
Also, the inclusion of these superstars was a determining factor for golf’s inclusion by the IOC; recognizable names such as Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy should only extend growth of the Olympics and support for golf year-round.
The impact of a high-profile superstar in Rio as world-renowned as Woods cannot be overstated.
Sure, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are basketball icons, and what they have done for the sport is fantastic. Golf, though, is an international game first. Not only is there a PGA Tour in the United States, but a European Tour as well. Thus, having its superstar in attendance is paramount for extensive viewing.
People of all ages alike will tune in to the Olympic golf coverage merely to get a peek at Woods to see if he can put together magic on the links or succumb to the elements. Regardless, the whole world will be captivated by that scene.
Good for the Olympics, good for golf.
No Team-Based Golf
When golf officials were in preparation to present to the IOC, there were calls for Olympic competition to be similar to the Ryder Cup format, in which Fourball and Foursomes play is included.
A team-based setup would provide something fresh for golf fanatics, as well as a sense of patriotism for casual fans who wouldn’t have to root for one golfer.
There certainly are potential obstacles standing in the way of true competition; most prominently, what if two American golfers are dueling for the championship? Will that still hold interest with the viewing public and stimulate the IOC?
Most recently, it has been suggested that the 72-hole individual format will continue to be used in 2016.
The American Advantage
Currently, the United States has nine of the Top 15 golfers in the Official World Golf Rankings. The Americans would be the overwhelming favorite for the gold, while some countries would be at a seven-golfer disadvantage in the Olympic tournament.
While golf may become a worldwide success in Rio, the tournament’s current format does not seem like equal opportunity for all countries.
Rugby Sevens: Format
Both men and women’s teams will compete in competition for medals. The proposed plan is to have 12 teams in both genders, likely to be split initially into three groups of four. The format differs from the Sevens World Cup, which starts with 24 teams split into six groups.
The International Rugby Board has decided to discontinue the Sevens World Cup to make the Olympic Games its top-profile event of the four-year cycle.
Qualification requirements have yet to be announced, but will most likely be decided in 2014.
Sevens Rugby: Pros
Overwhelming Majority Vote
Steadfast support for rugby sevens was apparent in the 81-8 IOC decision in favor of the sport.
The lack of controversy around the decision is a breath of fresh air for new Olympic sports, which usually go through backlash from some party or another.
The International Olympic Committee sees that sevens rugby, as Australian Olympic Committee member John Coates puts it, "has the potential to open up a teams sport to countries that otherwise don't make it to teams sports that we have now."
In comparison to the more physical, crowded nature of 15-man rugby, the spacing and emphasis on ball control in sevens competition should entice casual viewers to tune in.
Rugby Sevens: Cons
The Perils of Rugby’s Physical Play
Once again, the issues of player safety come to the forefront. Rugby will be the most dangerous sport in Olympic competition on land in 2016 by a landslide.
While sevens clears out the field and provides a potentially less dangerous platform, the lack of protection for these Olympic athletes could open up Pandora’s Box for severe injuries. With new reports about concussions and head trauma surfacing regularly concerning physical sports, rugby is certainly in the conversation.
After all, rugby was removed from Olympic competition for a reason.
There will be single Olympic kitesurfing events for men and women that will take place in Rio (via InMotion Kitesurfing Magazine).
They will also be featured at the 2013 Sailing World Cup and 2014 World Championships leading up to the 2016 Olympics.
A fresh addition to the Olympic Catalogue
Kitesurfing brings a novel concept to the Olympic Games.
The sport and its participants will get a worldwide audience to see what aerial surfing is all about. The concepts of paragliding and windsurfing will be new to the majority of viewers, but the pure aesthetics of kitesurfing alone provide a reason to tune in.
Kitesurfing Replaces Windsurfing in Olympics
The addition of kitesurfing in Rio does not come without a price. Windsurfing, which has been an Olympic competition since 1984, was scrapped from the Olympic program in favor of kitesurfing.
The IOC’s decision was considered a surprise, eliciting a backlash from the windsurfing community. With kitesurfing’s approval only occurring after a 19-17 tally, windsurfing backers have also called out kitesurfing’s unfinished international program to reverse the decision. In addition, it has been reported that Spanish Olympics officials mistakenly voted for kitesurfing at the official IOC vote; they have since admitted their mistake.
It seems, though, that kitesurfing wil get its national audience in 2016.
Is Kitesurfing too Extreme for the Olympics?
Kitesurfing also has a treacherous reputation for injuries, calling into question the safety of its Olympic participants. In a study conducted by German doctors to find out the true dangers of the sport, over half of the study’s 235 participants suffered injuries over a six-month period, including a handful of kitesurfers with severe damage.
Kitesurfing may prove to be too dangerous for its own good.