It happens as regularly as the games itself it seems. Every four years us F1 bods witness the Summer Olympic extravaganza, and start to yearn for our sport to be added to the fun. Articles saying why it should happen, and how it could, bubble up with something like the inevitability that Pavlov found with his canine companion.
Yes, a few years back the FIA got full recognition status from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Yes, also a few years before that the IOC removed a clause from the Olympic charter that stated that sports with mechanical propulsion were “not acceptable”.
It likely doesn’t help either that these days we have an F1 summer break, which tends to coincide with the summer games, and is also when ‘real’ F1 news all but stops and nonsense tends to get sucked into the resultant vacuum. But still…
A Sport That Doesn’t fit
Whatever, it is in my view a bad idea. And the first argument as to why is a familiar one. It remains hard to suggest that F1 especially fits with the Olympics, as was summed up by the IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2012. “Frankly speaking, the concept we are having is the games are about the competition for the athletes, not for equipment” he said. “Therefore, while having a lot of respect [for F1], they will not be included into the Olympic programme.”
Yes, they say in the stock retort, plenty of existing Olympic sports also have equipment, often highly advanced; sometimes of varying quality. While there also are plenty of horse-based sports in the games and some horses are better than others (and breeding of horses for sport is a very deliberate and engineered exercise). But as with many arguments this is one of degree. Motorsport generally and F1 especially seems just a few too many steps removed compared with those others.
One recent article that was a bit more considered than most said in order for motorsport to have even a remote chance of being squeezed in we’d likely need something akin to Formula Palmer Audi as was – single-make and with some kind of randomised allocation of engineers and the like. I heard someone else argue that ‘green’ technology a la Formula E likely would help too.
And yes, as is often contended, in the 1908 games power boating featured, but there’s probably a reason it hasn’t featured since. It’s even been pointed out that in the 1900 games in Paris there were some auxiliary events held at roughly the same time as part of the World’s Fair that some took as pseudo Olympic events. And yes, some of them were motorsport events, but so deliciously were the likes of kite flying, life saving and firefighting, which sums up the extreme flimsiness of that analogy.
It Would Become a Nuisance
But even so, in my view, we haven’t quite got to the crux of the matter. Given what was said at the outset of this article it’s hard to know why the Olympics needs motorsport especially. But also on closer inspection it even becomes difficult to know why motorsport needs the Olympics.
It sounds silly I know, but stay with me. I for one have long taken the view that a sport should only feature in the Olympic games if someone operating in that sport would consider winning Olympic gold as the ultimate achievement in their pursuit.
And it’s not merely a romantic point, as if you look at the examples of the sports that are in the Olympics but that the Olympics are not the pinnacle due to them having already-established pinnacle competitions – a list which F1 surely would join – the message that runs through like in a stick of rock is that the Olympic event is thought a nuisance more than anything else.
Few in football (well, men’s football at least) treat its Olympics tournament with great seriousness (with the possible exception of Brazil but that’s largely as it’s about the only tournament it’s eligible for that it’s never won). Its greatest impact is one of disruption to clubs losing their players for a few weeks. Give any tennis player a choice between winning Olympic gold and a Grand Slam and there will be little hesitation.
Look at golf introduced this time and how many top players (well, again at least the male ones) didn’t even deign to turn up. Yes most of them pointed at the Zika virus but Rory McIlroy probably had the most candour by saying it was actually that he didn’t see a golfing Olympic gold as a priority. Many commentators reckoned this was the actual reason for most refuseniks, while Rory himself rather summed the matter up when he noted “I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch…Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters.” Quite.
As for why those sports are there in the Olympics at all? Money. I recall reading indeed that even the diminished football tournament makes the Olympics more money than any other single event, even the track and field. F1 in the Olympics may tempt, but the best evidence we have is that it would complicate an already crowded calendar, and the major beneficiary would be the IOC bottom line.