This post has been in the works for a while now. For the last two years it’s been written and re-written in my mind, debating the pros and cons of pétanque becoming an Olympic sport. The decade-plus lobbying efforts have progressed considerably, and pétanque players and fans alike are optimistic that the French game could make its Olympic debut in 2024, which coincidentally, Paris is bidding to host. So I decided it’s time for me to put my thoughts in writing.
For anyone reading this who’s not familiar with pétanque, let me make something clear: Pétanque is not the same as (Italian game) bocce. It’s better. I’m sorry, but one won’t ever find me excited about the possibilities of bocce becoming an Olympic event.
Because I do play pétanque, one might think that I’m automatically biased regarding pétanque in the Olympics. Do I think pétanque should become an Olympic event? The answer is surprising: yes and no.
I have a bit of a problem with certain games or skills being in the Olympics if they don’t require a lot of athleticism. Now, I’m not suggesting that pétanque requires no athleticism, but it requires much less compared to wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, or speed skating. My interpretation of the Olympics is that it’s a series of multiple, athletic sporting events and does not include those which require less athleticism or physicality. With that said, shooting, archery, and maybe even curling wouldn’t make my cut. I know. I’m going to get a lot of flack for these comments.
Adding pétanque to the Olympics also brings up another problem I have with new events continually being added the Olympics. Already the Summer Olympics are teetering on the edge of becoming a circus, these additions to the Games diluting the uniqueness and respectability of being an Olympian, of becoming an Olympic medalist. Does every game and sport need to be in the Olympics? No!
And yet these two sentences I just wrote will be argued by those who cite the words of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern-day Olympics: “All sports for all people.” However, to use Coubertin’s lovely quote and argue for continued expansion opens the Olympic floodgates, allowing all games and sports into the Olympics. Chess, backgammon, video games, poker, stair climbing, hang-gliding, hot air balloon racing….Do you see where this is going?
Let’s set aside my personal feelings about the dilution of the Olympics and examine the current IOC requirements for becoming an Olympic event. All 33 criteria are in published form on the IOC website, titled the, “Evaluation Criteria for Sports and Disciplines.” Rather than go through the entire exhaustive list, I’ll touch on the most important ones:
- Youth appeal. While youth development is a problem in some countries (including the United States), it appears to strong and growing in both African and Asian countries. In addition, development remains a focus for many European nations.
- Universality and popularity. According to the International Federation of Pétanque, there are over 110 countries with established pétanque federations. There is no question that the popularity of pétanque is widespread and well-established in the majority of these countries.
- Good governance. The sport has an international governing body and affiliated federations (mentioned above).
Based on this criteria, pétanque qualifies to become an Olympic event. And while I might initially heave a heavy, exasperated sigh over yet another event being added to the Olympics, as a player of the game, there’s a small part of me which will be excited. I’ll be excited for the game which I’ve quickly grown to love.
I have one small request: For pétanque to be included in the Olympics, the semi-finals and finals need to be more than just one game. The present structure has titles being won in final games which last as few as 30 or 60 minutes. Let’s have a best of three matches to determine the victors. After all, this would be for an Olympic medal!
Faster, Higher, Stronger.