Olympic Program Metastasis

The IOC today announced multiple changes to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Programme, adding numerous mixed events, several “street” events (such as 3×3 hoops), and trying to equalize the program by genders. One thing this will do, however, is greatly increase the size of the 2020 Olympics, something the IOC has been trying to ward off.

In 2000, in the wake of the Olympic Bribery Scandal, the IOC formed the IOC 2000 Commission to look at ways to revise the Olympic Movement and Games. Two of the recommendations were to limit the size of the Summer Olympics to 300 events and 10,000 athletes. Rio 2016 had 306 events and 11,182 athletes, and no Olympics since 2000 has had less than 10,500 competitors.

The IOC announced that there will now be 321 events at Tokyo, and by limiting athlete quotas in many sports, will decrease the number of competitors by 285 athletes. However, they did not take into account the 5 new proposed sports, which have been assumed to be a fait accompli – baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing. If one looks at the IOC’s own publication on this – see  https://stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/…/Olympic-Pr…  – that would add another 18 events, bringing the total to 339 events for Tokyo 2020. Further, the IOC is projecting 474 additional athletes in the new sports, which more than eliminates the savings from the new sports quotas. This would bring the projected Rio total to about 11,500 athletes, and I would not be surprised to see it reach close to 12,000.

Here is how the Summer Olympic program has expanded since WW2:

Events Men Wom Mix Tot Increase Men% Women%
1948 112 19 5 136 5.4% 86.0% 17.6%
1952 117 25 7 149 9.6% 83.2% 21.5%
1956 116 26 9 151 1.3% 82.8% 23.2%
1960 113 29 8 150 -0.7% 80.7% 24.7%
1964 119 33 11 163 8.7% 79.8% 27.0%
1968 115 39 18 172 5.5% 77.3% 33.1%
1972 132 43 20 195 13.4% 77.9% 32.3%
1976 130 49 19 198 1.5% 75.3% 34.3%
1980 134 50 19 203 2.5% 75.4% 34.0%
1984 144 62 15 221 8.9% 71.9% 34.8%
1988 151 72 14 237 7.2% 69.6% 36.3%
1992 159 86 12 257 8.4% 66.5% 38.1%
1996 163 97 11 271 5.4% 64.2% 39.9%
2000 168 120 12 300 10.7% 60.0% 44.0%
2004 166 125 10 301 0.3% 58.5% 44.9%
2008 165 127 10 302 0.3% 57.9% 45.4%
2012 162 132 8 302 0.0% 56.3% 46.4%
2016 161 136 9 306 1.3% 55.6% 47.4%
2020 156 147 18 321 4.9% 54.2% 51.4%
2020Plus 165 156 18 339 10.8% 54.0% 51.3%

2020Plus are the numbers assuming the 5 new sports are accepted as proposed. That would come to 339 events and a 10.8% increase over the size of the Olympic Program. Since 1948 that will be the second biggest increase, after a 13.4% increase for Munich 1972. It is also about the same as Sydney 2000, which increased by 10.7%. The Munich increase was driven by a few new sports (archery, handball, and judo returned to the program after missing 1968), and new weight classes for men in weightlifting and wrestling. The Sydney increase was from a few new sports / disciplines (trampoline, triathlon, taekwondo), but mainly from adding women’s sports and events – modern pentathlon, water polo, weightlifting.

If you look at the table you will see the IOC is approaching gender equity with the program. Women will be able to compete in 51.3% of the 2020Plus Program, while men will be eligible in 54.0% of the Program (it adds to > 100% because of mixed events).

That is admirable and there are certainly no complaints about it. It follows Bach’s proposals in Agenda 2020 to have an event-based program instead of a sport-based one, and to achieve gender equity. But with a proposed 339 events, and maybe approaching 12,000 athletes, one has to wonder when the current era is one in which cities are refusing to bid for Olympics because they have become too big and too expensive. It may require further IOC legerdemain to reverse that trend.

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