I feel sacrilegious typing that like I’ve offended a god. I typed out that title, then erased it, then took a deep breath and typed it out again.
For a long time football has been my sole passion in life, something that I thought nothing would ever diminish but as a spectacle, I think the Olympics are better and I say this as someone who gets really excited for the World Cup, at least until Nigeria plays her first match (after which my will to live starts to slowly ebb away).
Most African men might disagree with me. Across the continent football is king, intertwining itself with the modern African lifestyle but if you actually think about it like I have, you’ll come to the same conclusion and admit that the Olympics is the superior product.
So here are 4 reasons why the Olympics are better than the World Cup
This is not to say the World Cup is bad, and the Olympics are the ‘best thing ever, omg’. They are both great sporting spectacles so put away your cutlasses.
1. More Inclusive:
From the likes of legendary players like George Best and Alfredo di Stefano, to modern superstars Like Ryan Giggs to our own African footballing Icons and legends like George Weah, Kalusha Bwalya and Mohamed Aboutreika (and in fact that Egyptian team of the last decade that dominated Africa) the list of players missing out on a World Cup is long and sad. The World Cup is bigger than it has ever been with 32 teams and as such some teams miss out. In Africa, we are usually only allowed 5 teams, which in a continent of 50+ teams means 90 percent of the teams will be disappointed in the end.
Not so the Olympics where every nation can participate. If your nation’s Olympic Committee chooses to enter your sport in an event and you can meet the often generous qualifying standards, you’re in. The best athletes and sportsmen almost never miss out except due to injury or doping bans.
The parade of nations during the opening ceremony is always a heartwarming event, where huge contingents like the Americans mix with contingents of 1 or 2 athletes like the Micronesia or Bhutan.
2. More stories and narratives.
Sure there are big stars in the events who do their events professionally- Serena Williams won 2 golds at London for instance- but there are also those who aren’t as lucky, or don’t play a sport that has a lot of sponsorship outside the Olympic cycle. You have people who have regular jobs, but who just happen to be good at A or B sport.
In football, it’s all becoming homogenized. The pathways are all similar to get to the top. The names are known from around the age of 16. There are often no surprises, no stories. No tales of the Gynecologist who’s also a world class hurdler, or the history teacher who cuts through the pool like a shark.
Sure individually there are some great tales, which get retold ad nauseum- did you know Jamie Vardy of Leicester City worked in a factory?- but it pales in significance to the Olympics.
In the US team, you’re going to have NBA superstars like Carmelo Anthony and icons like Serena Williams sharing a stage with athletes from less popular sports.
I have a couple of friends who came close to qualifying for the games in Rowing (for the UK) and the marathon (for America). Imagine, my friend Donna could have shared a stage with Mo Farah, or my other friend Leah could have walked next to Serena. How cool is that?
The really cool thing though is how wowed all of these people are despite all their achievements. It’s really heartwarming to see those NBA superstars or the soccer stars during the parade of Nations filming the whole experience on their cellphones with a look of childlike wonder on their faces.
4. More variety.
The World Cup is like going to a restaurant that’s great but serves just one meal, while the Olympics is like going to a high class buffet or better yet, having some tapas.
The 2010 World Cup was completely grueling to watch. By the end, I was done, not in the mood for any more football for another couple of months. I actually shivered a little, when I realized that the new season would start in less than a month.
The Olympics on the other hand has so much going on, you don’t have time to be bored. And it’s only two weeks long so by the time it’s over, you wish it wasn’t.