14 Feb

Cross Over Olympic Exclusion

Mo Farah competes on snow

Regular correspondent Chris Broadbent has a radical idea to 'sex' up the Winter Olympics.  Chris reckons that cross-country would be a major addiion to the programme and explains his reasoning ...

Strangely intriguing is how I would describe much of the Winter Olympics. At any other given time, I wouldn’t give a jot for the curling, slopestyle, luge or other rather puzzling pastimes. But once every four years, five interlocking rings next to it and our own plucky lot competing for Team GB and it holds a certain sort of appeal.

Still, I cannot help thinking there is one glaringly obvious omission from this festival of seasonal sport. Cross country running is an international winter tradition that stretches back way over a century. So, why is it left outside looking in at Sochi 2014? To their credit, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and respected magazine Athletics Weekly have campaigned strongly for its inclusion to the IOC.

Yet, there is no place for a sport that arguably has more participants world-wide than any other Winter sport. I am not sure what the exact criteria for becoming an Olympic sport is. In fact I’m not entirely sure the IOC does, given that golf and rugby sevens will feature at Rio 2016. But I think when most people consider what makes a typical Olympic sport, they ask themselves the following questions: Does this sport require great athleticism? Is this sport truly international? Is Olympic gold the ultimate prize in this sport?

For cross country running, the answer would be yes on all three counts - more than can be said for many existing Olympic sports. Furthermore, it seems the IOC have even greater flexibility when it comes to the Winter Games than the Summer Games. After all, curling seems to me to be bowls on ice and snowboarding slopestyle is simply skateboarding on a slippier surface. So, do these sports inclusion owe more to the fact that they must take place on snow and ice and less that they are credible international sports?

There is no doubt that the shimmering whiteness of the Winter Olympics makes for some stunning imagery. Which cannot always be said for a muddy cross country run. But is the Olympics an art exhibition or elite sport? Besides, cross country can easily be held on snow and often is through the European winter.

Cross country has been part of the Summer Olympics before, its last appearance being at Paris 1924. So, the sport already has an Olympic history, albeit in the wrong season. Its addition it would also broaden the geographical spread of the Winter Olympics to African nations, who are largely absent from Sochi.

Within the athletics family, cross country running has become the poor relation of road running and track and field with its lack of Olympic status. But if it were to be included and brought with it superstars such as Mo Farah and Kenenisa Bekele, wouldn't that be an incredible boost to the sport and the Winter Olympics too?

Surely its the job of the IOC to ensure the Olympics provide an inspirational platform to serve sport? So, come on IOC. Let’s see cross country where it belongs in Pyeongchang 2018.