There are lots of reasons why snowshoeing has not been added to the Winter Olympics lineup, and there are also a lot of reasons why it should be included. Competitive snowshoeing has been in existence for about 200 years, according to Mark Elmore, head of the International Snowshoe Federation.
One of the main criterion for consideration as an Olympic sport is history and longevity, according to the International Olympic Committee, or IOC for short. Snowshoeing clearly fills that requirement, and then some. Other requirements for being considered as an Olympic event include that a sport must be presented in 20 countries on five continents. A total of 18 countries on five continents that participated in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have at least one snowshoe organization representing their efforts.
The growing popularity of the sport also bodes well for snowshoeing. In 2013, a nationwide survey of 40,000 people was conducted by Snowsports Industries America. It projected that there were 4,029,000 snowshoers in the 2012/2013 winter season. Though the numbers were down slightly from the previous study, the number of snowshoers surpassed the number of cross-country skiers for only the second time since the study’s inception. Other 2013 snow sport populations included alpine skiing (8,243,000), cross-country skiing (3,307,000), and snowboard (7,351,000).
Another important statistic is the age group of snowhoers which includes 20 percent under the age of 17, 39 percent are ages 18-34, and 29 percent were 35 to 54; 12 percent were 55 and above. Women comprised 46 percent of snowshoers while men tallied 54 percent in the gender summary.
Adding New Events
Looking at the IOC’s sudden inclusion of sports like ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle, and snowboard parallel special slalom make you scratch your head wondering how Olympic officials rationalized their decisions. Here are a few facts: The IOC charter clearly states that before a new sport can be added to the lineup, an existing sport must be dropped. However, in 2014, a dozen news competitions were added to the lineup making the Sochi Games the longest in the 90-year history of the Winter Games. Eight of these sports were not even invented until roughly a decade ago, and all have been phenomenally successful events in the Winter X Games, the annual extreme sporting event held each January and televised by ESPN. These are somewhat entertaining, but have absolutely no history or longevity as the IOC claims they must have in order to be considered.
So, how did the IOC circumvent its own rules? They added these new events and included them under the umbrella of currently successful disciplines like alpine and cross-country skiing, which both have long histories and meet all the IOC parameters. But the reality is that there is no way any of these imported X Games sporting events come close to achieving the 20 country, five continent rule as set by the IOC. Another important factor is the demographics and advertising potential. The IOC has desperately been courting the Generation X and Generation Y crowd, and the X Games are the perfect example of reaching those audiences. Thus, to meet their marketing and financial plans, the IOC basically hi-jacked a handful of sports from the X Games and deemed them official Olympic events.
To understand how important the money factor is to the IOC, look at softball and golf in the Summer Games. Softball had basically very little advertising potential. Given that glaring fact, the IOC removed it as an official sport after the 2008 Games. Golf on the other hand, has been missing in action as an Olympic sport since 1904. Given its over-the-top worldwide appeal and lucrative advertising reach, adding golf to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro was a no-brainer. Ever since Peter Ueberroth showed the IOC how to make a profit during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, the IOC has been on that same quest.
To Be Or Not To Be…
When you take all the IOC rules, regulations, incentives, and motivations, it’s challenging to move the needle when it comes to adding a sport like snowshoeing to the Olympic lineup. Though it has the history, longevity, youthful appeal, and growing numbers, the advertising base – or lack thereof – is the one determining factor that has kept this sport from racing to the finish line in the Winter Olympics. What’s really ironic is that snowshoe racing has been a Special Olympics event since 1997 but has yet to gain the nod from the IOC.
Longtime supporters of adding snowshoe racing to the Winter Olympics feel like they are pushing a snowball up a hill. But as Mark Elmore and others claim, this race is far from over.