With less than 100 days until the Winter Olympics there’s one fast-growing winter sport that won’t be there: cyclo-cross. Should it be included for 2018? Could it be included?
Cyclo-cross is a winter sport. It began as a means for road cyclists to exercise during winter. But it’s become a sport in its own right, recognized by cycling’s governing body, the UCI, which holds an annual world championship every winter.
The International Olympic Committee has a long list of criteria for sports to be included and cyclo-cross ticks a lot of the boxes. But there’s one massive obstacle. It might be practised in winter but cyclo-cross is not a winter sport according to the IOC’s Olympic Charter which serves as its scripture, its fundamental text. Here’s Rule 6:
That’s a pretty immovable object. Nothing’s impossible but this would involve overturning a fundamental element within sport.
But rules can be changed if there’s pressure. Cyclo-cross would be a candidate if the IOC and others felt they could gain from including it. Take the arrival of new snowboarding events into the winter games or BMX in the summer games. The IOC looks on with envy at events like the X Games and Red Bull’s marketing stunts. The Olympics want to excite younger generations, in part because even sponsors want to reach these audience segments. There’s even been exploratory work to bring in skateboarding for the summer games… under the umbrella of the UCI.
So could the IOC exploit cyclo-cross and gain? Probably not. It’s a fast-growing sport but remains restricted to a few, often small, countries. At the last world championships the results where dominated Belgium and the Netherlands and the footprint doesn’t go to deep beyond, you see Germany, Switzerland, France and the Czech Republic up there, although there’s always the exception and the USA’s Katie Compton won a medal on home soil.
The Winter Olympics are already massively biased towards the northern hemisphere and then obviously towards those nations that endure icy winters. For example ski jumping is preserve of a few nations and until now, a male-only sport at the Olympics. But ski jumping benefits from inertia, it’s inside the games so it gets to stay there.
Ultimately it could be in the Olympics but does cross need to be? You can race this weekend, Sven Nys can race this weekend. There’s no need for a sport to seek Olympic validation and cyclo-cross is thriving without the Olympics. In fact one reason it’s doing so well is because it’s so simple to put on a race, it’s far from the committees and corridors of the IOC and UCI. As a sport that’s growing from the bottom upwards it doesn’t need Olympic patronage. Contrast this with track cycling.
But being part of the Olympic Games has its benefits, there is that validation and a global audience who can discover the sport. You might have your views on curling or ski jumping but if they were outside of the Olympics I suspect many would find them even more quirky and minority activities.
It it not just perception, the UCI is flush with cash right now from the 2012 summer Olympics. Get cyclo-cross onto the winter programme and the UCI would have more cash, a portion of which could be deployed to broaden the sport’s appeal around the world.
It’s a winter sport but because cyclo-cross is not run on snow and ice it cannot be part of the Winter Olympics. Changing the Olympic charter looks impossible and the UCI cannot crowbar the sport. Instead the IOC would have to feel an overwhelming need to include the sport but the sport is not there.