Snooker’s chances of ever being included in the Olympics have been well documented here on Inside Snooker before (July 28, 2014 – ‘Snooker’s Olympic Ambitions’).
But after almost two decades of aspiring to join the party the issue was given new prominence this week with cuesports governing bodies targeting a Tokyo ‘wild-card’ place for the Japan 2020 Olympic Games.
The various mistakes and missed opportunities over the years both for inclusion at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games are a matter of obvious record – as is the zeal and endeavour brought to recover some of the lost ground by current WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson.
Snooker, pool and billiards using the unoriginal but apt slogan ‘2020 Vision’ retain outside hopes of gate-crashing the 2020 party because host nation Japan will be able to add at least one new sport into the Games to the previously agreed list – a decision that could be made as soon as July.
And working with other cuesports organisations the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association would love to see their leading stars such as Ronnie O’Sullivan taking part. Originally 2024 was seen as the earliest chance for cuesports – but the new discretion for Japan has left the door slightly ajar.
WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said: “Snooker has grown at unprecedented levels and it has been our belief for some time that we should be given our chance on the ultimate global platform for sport.
“In 2001 we delivered, with great success, our sport to the International World Games in Akita, Japan, a programme which has continued to this day. Today we strongly believe that cue sports has a very powerful case for inclusion in the Olympics in Tokyo.
“Snooker alone is watched by nearly half a billion people worldwide and played competitively in over 90 countries. With pool and carom alongside us under the WCBS, we have competition in around 200 countries, making us one of the world’s most widely practised sports.
“The Olympics brings together the most skilled and dedicated athletes on the planet. There are few sports which can match the skill and concentration of snooker; our players are pushed to their limits in mind and dedication.
“We are educating people through Cue Zone Into Schools and you do not have to look far to see the fundamental principles of the Olympic Movement being promoted at the highest level within our sport.
“Olympic participation is part of our global vision and we are committed to seeing our players competing for gold medals on the Olympic stage. Let’s begin in Tokyo in 2020.”
Two obvious questions spring to mind, then. Should snooker be in the Olympics at all – and has it got a hope of being included?
While there is still whim involved in these things and plenty of schmoozing will inevitably be involved at the International Olympic Committee the tired old prejudices against cuesports, happily, may not be the deciding factor. Things like worldwide spread and reach, interest, viewing figures, participation, inclusivity, and sportsmanship are strong suits and will appeal to those making the decisions.
On a purely personal level cuesports might fail my own long-time Olympic criteria which is that a gold medal should be the biggest thing you can win in your sport. It is for an athlete, a rower and a swimmer. It isn’t for a golfer or a tennis player, and even for a basketball player.
I suspect the World Championship would remain the biggest prize for a snooker player but in a way that isn’t the point. Which is that the sport should not be unfairly discriminated against and if some of these other sports are eligible, then it should have its shot, most likely as part of a cuesports package. The usual ‘it’s not a proper sport’ nonsense carries zero weight while archery and shooting are in the regular line-up.
So if it should be considered, has it got any chance? Realistically snooker and cuesports have next to no chance of being big in Japan in 2020. These things take time, and there are plenty of long-declared starters in this race. Men’s baseball and women’s softball, hugely popular in Japan, are seen as the favourites for late inclusion at the moment with karate, squash, skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing and roller sports also in with a chance.
But Ferguson and the rest have to start somewhere. They need to be talking to the people that this move will put them in touch with, and 2024, the original target before the rule change on discretionary late additions, was also considered optimistic. Bringing those serious contacts forward a few years can do nothing but good for the longer-term ambitions.