Pre-Olympic worlds

Recently, the FIG decided on the host cities for worlds next quad. Antwerp 2013, Nanning 2014 (I think they’ve finally confirmed this?) and Glasgow 2015. This post isn’t about that exactly though. Stoi! is late off the mark, we’re not that late off the mark. No, it’s about the preponderance of non-European cities for worlds in the pre-Olympic year.

This is a somewhat revisionist narrative. If we hear anything about the distribution of major events between Europe and the rest of the world, the discussion is usually predicated on Europe being advantaged. And it’s true that Europe gets more major events than the rest of the world. That isn’t just the case for gymnastics either. Which is not a great surprise given that there aren’t that many countries and cities on the planet with the funds to put on this kind of thing, and a disproportionate number of them are European.

However, it’s also true that European cities tend to be more willing to bid for the more ‘minor’ worlds. Nobody ever really wants the one immediately after the Olympics. They’re mostly a bit gnarly.

Here, I present a gallery of hideous post-Olympic worlds medallists, as a reminder.

These are just my personal favourites, of course, and not necessarily presented as the absolute nadir.

And yes, I know there’ve been some good post-Olympic worlds. 1985 and 1989 were sumptuous, but you know, we had the Soviets then. Khorkina had some pretty shit hot stuff in 97 too, but again there’s the Soviet factor.

Certainly the majority of these competitions in the post-Soviet era have been a letdown.

Conversely, the worlds immediately before the Olympics is the prestige one. It’s the one that Olympic qualification rides on, and is of course the appetiser to the Games themselves. So for this reason, it’s the easiest one to market.

With that in mind, it probably isn’t a coincidence that when USAG want worlds, they bid for the pre-Olympic one. They didn’t get it this time, despite this stunning promotional video by Nastia Liukin.

There was another, not quite as cruddy video later on, but this was the first that emerged onto the gymternet. It didn’t create the best of impressions. Orlando also seems to have a horrific reputation. I’ve never been anywhere near the place, so can’t comment, but everyone who had seemed to hate it. To a child who grew up in the UK in the 80s and 90s, it just connotes Disneyland. With residual notions of glamour. I’ve wondered for some time if that’s one of the reasons Florida seems to be so popular with NCAA bound Brits.

Anyway, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth from some quarters because Orlando didn’t win the bid. Glasgow did. No fair, apparently.

It’s true that the UK has been given lot of competitions recently- 2009 worlds, 2010 Euros, 2012 Olympics, 2014 CWG and now 2015 worlds. But nobody else wanted 2009 worlds. 2012 will be the first Olympics Britain has ever won rather than volunteered to host when nobody else wanted to. CWG has an even smaller pool of countries able to host than worlds does, meaning that Australia, Canada and the UK pretty much have to have it every 20 years. Scotland has never had a worlds before, and might be an entirely separate country to the one containing London and Birmingham by that time. And presumably most people would acknowledge that Euros should really be in Europe.

A salient fact is that pre-Olympic worlds, the best ones, don’t get given to Europe that much. The first ones were held in 1979. So there’ve been 10 allocated so far. Of those, 6 have been/will be held outside Europe, assuming Tokyo still comes off as planned. The US alone has had 3. No other country has had more than 1.

I believe Fort Worth was the only bidder for 1979 because of the short notice, but that still leaves 2 of 9. Not a great surprise given the money that NBC pumps into the Olympics- and I don’t have any great problem with this, btw. I’d be fine with NBC if they got a commentary team who know more about gymnastics than my verruca does. Sure, their coverage can be pretty jingoistic- 2011 Scam was a particularly repulsive example- but then they’re not the only ones to do that. Seen the BBC lately? Bring back Barry.

In comparison, the post-Olympic worlds are normally in Europe. The first ever held were in 1981, so we’re now on 9. 7 of those have been in Europe, usually smaller countries. Mid-quad worlds have also always been in Europe, although they’re a different example because they were the only worlds until 78, then none except 94 for another 24 years. They have veered between the sublime and the ridiculous.

My memory doesn’t stretch as far back as some people’s, but I do recall that in the last decade, it’s been virtually all European cities willing to host the post-Olympic worlds. Obviously there was Melbourne in 05, only 11 years after Australia’s previous worlds and 5 years after the Olympics there. I don’t think the US has ever even applied. Canada wanted 2006 and missed out. Not really surprising since it would be silly to have 3 non-European worlds in a row: there are only a fairly small number of federations outside Europe that are willing and able to do it, so bids from them are a valuable resource that have to be spread thinly in order to avoid an entire decade of European worlds afterwards. Can’t really think of any others.

So, my advice to any city outside Europe that wants worlds would be to think about going for something other than the ones immediately before the Olympics. It worked for Melbourne and Nanning after all. And for those who think that Glasgow getting 2015 is more indication of Eurocentrism within the FIG, give some thought to where the competitions people actually want to host are going to…


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