One sport facing axing from the Olympics

Last updated 11:44 09/02/2013

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Removing a sport from the Olympics is one of the IOC's most sensitive tasks. After months of evaluation, a decision will come next week.

The century-old competition of modern pentathlon appears the most at risk.

The IOC executive board will meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, and announce Wednesday (NZ time) which of the current 26 sports on the Olympic program will be dropped for the 2020 Games.

With the aim of refreshing and modernising the Olympic sports lineup, the IOC will also decide this year which sport to add as a replacement.

The last sports axed from the Olympics were baseball and softball, voted out by the IOC in 2005 and off the program since the 2008 Beijing Games. Baseball and softball have now combined forces and are among seven sports competing for inclusion in 2020, along with karate, roller sports, squash, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.

The newest sports on the Olympic program are golf and rugby, approved by the IOC in 2009 for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Now, it's time for another sport to go. And signs are that modern pentathlon, a tradition-laden contest once practiced in the Olympics by George S. Patton, is facing the closest scrutiny.

Modern pentathlon features fencing, swimming, horse riding, running and shooting and is meant to simulate the skills of a cavalry officer. It was invented for the Olympics by French baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern games.

Modern pentathlon has been in the Olympics since the 1912 Games in Stockholm, where the fifth-place finisher was Patton, who later gained fame as the US World War II general.

The knock on modern pentathlon has been that it is outdated, lacks global popularity and has only a small base of top competitors.

The sport's governing body, the UIPM, has been taking steps to increase the sport's appeal. UIPM President Klaus Schormann has been lobbying hard and said he was feeling calm ahead of the IOC meeting.

"If someone is nervous, you make mistakes," Schormann told The Associated Press. "We are looking to the young generations to focus on youth. We are focusing and following exactly the opinion and the philosophy of the IOC. We are developing things from the ground up and not from the top."

IOC President Jacques Rogge and the 15-member executive board will review a report from the IOC program commission, which assessed all 26 sports on the program at last summer's London Olympics.

The report, which has not been published, analysed 39 criteria, including attendance figures, TV ratings, ticket sales, global participation levels and popularity with youth.

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While the document does not rank the sports, modern pentathlon scored low in many categories, according to several Olympic officials familiar with the report. The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the report is confidential and no decision has yet been made.

Whether the executive board will rely on the report is another matter. The final decision is bound to be swayed by political as well as technical factors.

Among the IOC board members is Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, son of the former IOC president and a vice president of the UIPM. The board includes as many as six potential candidates to succeed Rogge when he steps down as president in September, meaning they may have long-term personal interests at play.

"It will be an interesting discussion," IOC vice president and board member Thomas Bach, who has not seen the report and would not address specific sports, told the AP. "All sports were successful in London. I'm sure there will be a great dose of emotional discussion.

"The art of putting the program together means you have to find the right balance between tradition and progress. Different sports have different arguments to put forward."

Schormann insisted that tradition should count, noting that modern pentathlon is the only Olympic sport created by De Coubertin.

"We have the feeling we are playing really the legacy of De Coubertin, as well as the legacy of the Olympic movement," he said. "The Olympic movement always needs history. You cannot just say we look only at the future. You can have the future when you are stable on the basic part of history."

Taekwondo is another sport that has been reported to be in potential jeopardy. The traditional Korean martial art, which has been in the Olympics since 2000, has also been active in lobbying IOC members.

Taekwondo appeared to bolster its credentials with a strong showing in London, where the sport featured a new electronic scoring system that helped eliminate judging controversies. While previous Olympic competitions were dominated by South Koreans, the eight gold medals in London were won by athletes from eight countries, including Argentina, Turkey and Britain.

Whatever sport is removed will then be eligible to join the seven others seeking to be added to the 2020 program, although it would seem highly unlikely for the IOC to approve a sport it had just eliminated.

The executive board will meet in St Petersburg, Russia, in May to decide which sport or sports to put forward for inclusion. The final decision will be made by the full IOC at its general session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in September.

The UIPM has adopted measures to make modern pentathlon more appealing. Previously held over five days, the Olympic competition is now completed in a single day. Air pistols have been replaced with laser guns. The shooting and running elements have been combined into a biathlon-style event.

David Svoboda of the Czech Republic and Laura Asadauskaite of Lithuania won gold medals in London, where the sport marked its 100th anniversary.

The UIPM has announced a new concept for Rio - all five disciplines taking place in one new stadium over a single five-hour session. The federation recently sent a letter to IOC members describing the measures it has taken to modernise the sport and "increase our appeal to the youth."

Schormann disputed the argument that his sport is not global enough.

"Our sport is really universal," he said. "We are in New Zealand, Chile, Ireland, Mongolia. We are around the world, in all continents."

- AP

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