Tug of War Pulls for Olympic Return

(ATR) From 1900 to 1920, tug of war was included in the Olympics. Backers of the sport hope it rejoins the program. 

(ATR) - Of the 40-plus sports seeking a spot on the Olympic program, four are trying to return. For 20 years -- from 1900 to 1920 -- tug of war was included as part of track and field. ATR interviewed Pres. Anton Rabe about his efforts to have TOW rejoin the program.

Around the Rings: Next year it will be 100 years since Tug of War was on the Olympic program. Why is it so important for your sport to return?

Anton Rabe: I believe it is the ultimate ambition of any athlete to participate at the apex of sports being the Olympics. Also the Olympics is such a high profile event which are interesting to sponsors and the media which in itself provide a platform to raise the profile and development of the sport. Tug of war is a very basic and ancient sport and being practiced in some form or another in virtually all countries globally. Although we understand the modern need for quick/"sexy" sports, culturally our sport has an appeal which we believe will add value to the Olympic programme. Just as other sports have adapted (eg rugby with 7’s on the programme), we also have a unique format in the sense that genders can compete in a mixed event which not many other sports can emulate. We also have both an indoor (winter) and the more traditional outdoor (summer) version. The organised and modern version of the sport however have a long way to go with regard to development and getting to true global footprint. In this objective we therefore remain humble and realistic and accept that we have some very hard work ahead to reach our ultimate dream.

ATR: What are the IOC requirements that you must fulfill in order to get the financial support?

AR: We understand this to be a global footprint and media/sponsorship/spectator appeal. At this stage TWIF are well established in Europe, North America (both USA and Canada) and parts of Asia, but in Africa and South America participation is limited with only South Africa currently competing at the highest international level. Tug of war is a very basic sport with limited equipment (basically a rope and some grassy area) required to participate – Numbers are however a problem (8 members per team) which is another challenge for the IOC – so we will be experimenting with lower numbers of athletes per team (the tug of war version of 7’s and T20) whilst the mixed gender category may also provide some opportunities at an Olympic level.

ATR: TWIF's budget is extremely small. How can you grow it? And how can you compete against other, better funded sports?

AR: We do not believe that a head on competition with the professional/big ticket sports is a realistic strategy. Tug of war are however unique with its youth/senior and gender categories, with a set of core values, including educational values for youth development such as ethics, integrity, team work, honour, respect and leadership development, which we believe should be appealing to niche audiences and sponsors. We are currently working very hard in this and are hopeful that we can achieve some partnership arrangement with a global roleplayer which will achieve synergies to the benefit of both parties.

ATR: How important are events like the World Games in 2021, the YOG, and the Commonwealth Games?

AR: The World Games is currently the pinnacle of our international participation and we value our participation since its inception in 1981 very highly. We regard other multi-sport platforms as opportunities too, especially the YOG which we hope we can ensure participation in the not too distant future. With regard to the Commonwealth Games – we have had engagements in the past and continue to do so as quite a number of of very active and high performing members are part of the Commonwealth. So we will pursue all platforms and see how we can add value to those events, whilst growing our global footprint towards achieving our ultimate vision.

ATR: In particular, how important will the next World Games be for TOW?

AR: The 2021 event will be the first where we will have the mixed (4+4 men/women) category on the program. We believe this will add immensely to the appeal and profile of tug of war and that this would indeed be another step-up towards getting our foot in the door of other multi-sports events. Tug of war is also one of only 2 or 2 power sports on the program which in itself provides some diversity with regard to format.

ATR: Your minutes reference TOW's desire to remain in the WG. Is there a chance that the sport could be dropped?

AR: Well, nothing is guaranteed in life and there is always a chance of this happening but we will continue to ensure that TOW provide a very high level of performance between our top nations which will continue to be an appealing and attractive contest which adds value to the WG programme given the unique traits we bring to the table as a power sport, multi-gender and very high level of competition by well prepared athletes.

ATR: What about the Olympic Channel? How important is the OC to TOW? The minutes mention that they would like to do more for TOW, but that the costs are exorbitant.

AR: Yes, costs of developing and packaging interesting clips is a problem. As mentioned earlier we are working towards some or other partnership with potential sponsors of which a high percentage of focus will be on development of visual material. We therefore believe that if we can provide the OC with interesting material it could be a vital platform to market and develop TOW to a wide and diverse international audience and potential participants.

ATR: Where do you see your greatest opportunity for growth? Asia? or somewhere else?

AR: A number of Asian countries already participate within the region, but we need to develop them to an international level through coaching and training of judges and other officials. South America and Africa are also target regions where slow progress is being made.

ATR: With so many young people now more interested in their phones than in sport, how do you make a really, truly old-fashioned sport like TOW interesting to them?

AR: Participation in TOW at a very high level is very hard work, but at a recreational and cultural level we believe we can make the sport attractive and appealing to the youth. Another challenge is to ensure that those that already participate in the sport at U18 and U23 level, remain in the sport towards the senior category.