The Hula Report: Winter Olympics Stick to the Ice

(ATR) Founder Ed Hula says ski mountaineering could be last sport to join Winter Games for many years ... 

(ATR) The elite club of Olympic winter sports should have a new member within a few weeks. It could be the last for years to come.

Chess and bridge were not part of discussion. Nor basketball.

At the session next month in Tokyo, the IOC is expected to approve ski mountaineering for a debut at Milan-Cortina in 2026.

The competition will include 48 athletes, evenly divided between male and female. The five medal events on the program will match the format of the ski mountaineering held at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne. The proposal calls for the additional athletes to fit within the quota of 2900 total athletes set for 2026.

No new venue will be built. Instead, the sport will hold down costs by using one of the alpine venues already in Cortina. It’s all part of the Olympic Agenda 2020 doctrine of IOC President Thomas Bach that sets out guidelines for the growth of the Olympics while still meeting the need for sustainability.

It’s also the first time a modern winter host city will take advantage of the option to include a sport of its choice. Ski mountaineering is one of the few recognized winter sports not on the program, but it’s a natural for Milan-Cortina. Italy is one of the sport’s top nations, which should mean enthusiastic spectators and Italians on the podium.

The addition of ski mountaineering also seems to validate the new method the IOC now follows to adopt sports. It’s the latest entry on the Olympic program trialed at the most recent Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne in 2020. This summer in Tokyo, 3X3 basketball, surfing, skateboard and sport climbing are on the Olympic program for at least one Games after debuts at the YOG.

The new process to select a sport also spared the humble Swiss-based international federation from an expensive lobbying campaign to secure the IOC’s vote.

While the growth of the Summer Olympicsprogram has spiraled to a record 33 sports in Tokyo with more trying to get into future Games, the winter program has few other contenders for places on the program. Indeed, ski mountaineering may be the last for years to come. Curling was the most recent, returning in 1998 after 50 years.

Bandy and icestock sport are the only other winter sports among dozens of recognized sports waiting in the wings to join the program. Icestock, a Bavarian sport akin to curling, and bandy, a kind of Nordic-inspired field hockey on skates, both need higher global profiles before getting serious consideration as medal sports. Bandy did appear in Helsinki as a demonstration sport in 1952. Sweden won the three-nation tournament that included Norway and Finland.

Decades ago there was some discussion in the IOC about whether the Winter Olympics might be a place to allow some sports on the program decidedly un-winter. Bridge and chess were mentioned as possibilities. When the question of how snow or ice might be involved, the uproarious image of card tables and chess boards on an ice sheet came to mind.

There was even talk about moving the basketball tournament from the summer program to winter. The move would have eased the summer schedule and added to a Winter Olympic program that had room for marquee events, especially in the final days of the Games.

The IOC put these proposals on ice, so to speak, with additional language to the Olympic Charter under the presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch decades ago.

"Only those sports which are practiced on snow or ice are considered as winter sports" is what the charter makes clear.

Imagine the titanic brawl with the NBA about a mid-season Olympic break for players to join national teams. It’s already a tortured process to get the stars of the NHL to attend the Olympic party every four years.

The slippery ice and snow slope should keep the Winter Olympic program safe from summer Games interlopers for now. Maybe some will try to flee from global warming. That’s a column for another day.

Written by Ed Hula.