The Sports Examiner: LA28 added-sports program to rely on pro-league outreach

LA28 Chair Casey Wasserman addressing the IOC Session in Mumbai, India on Monday (Photo: IOC video screenshot)

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One of the most interesting aspects of the presentation by LA28 of its now-approved proposal to add five more sports to its Olympic Games program – baseball-softball, cricket, flag football, lacrosse and squash – was the tie in each case to an existing International Federation or professional sports league.

Said LA28 Chair Casey Wasserman:

“We are excited to embark on game-changing collaborations with major professional leagues that will unlock massive opportunities to amplify the Olympic and Paralympic story and captivate new audiences.”

This is important, with each of the five sports having a significant professional league that plays in the U.S.:

● Major League Baseball (USA)
● Major League Cricket (USA)
● National Football League (USA)
● Premier Lacrosse League (USA)
● Professional Squash Association (GBR)

At the top of the list, of course, is the National Football League, with LA28 Sports Director Niccolo Campriani (ITA) telling the Session:

“Flag Football is the future, and the tip of the spear for American Football’s international growth, with approximately 20 million flexible players across over 100 countries with gender balance in participation.

“Lastly, the inclusion of flag football opens the door to a game-changing partnership with the NFL, the world’s largest professional league. NFL commitment in this journey is total – not a one-and-done – reflecting its long-term determination to collaborate with the International Federation of American Football and the Olympic Movement in the interest of sports worldwide.”

Expect to see a commercial relationship between the NFL and LA28, with flag football being showcased in tournaments prior to 2028 to ramp up interest in the sport both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The same can be true for cricket, but most likely with the International Cricket Council, the worldwide governing body of the sport. The fledgling Major League Cricket has franchises in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New York, but it’s worth noting that the ninth ICC Men’s T20 World Cup will be played in the West Indies (seven countries) and Dallas, Miami and New York in June 2024, with a U.S. team automatically included as a host country.

What is not clear is whether Major League Baseball players would participate in the 2028 Games. The World Baseball Classic is played during the spring training period, not during the regular MLB season, and while Commissioner Rob Manfred did not make any predictions on play availability, Wasserman told the Los Angeles Times“We’ve had great conversations with MLB and the players union.”

The addition of all these sports and the approval of weightlifting and modern pentathlon (with boxing on hold) will surge the athlete total well beyond the Olympic Charter’s prescribed limit of 10,500. The IOC Program Commission’s report stated that 742 additional athletes can be expected, bringing the total to 11,242.

Where to put all these people? Is there room at the Olympic Village at UCLA?

There are some interesting ideas, and IOC Program Commission Chair Karl Stoss (AUT) explained:

“As a result of including a number of team sports, it was understood that approval of the package would be likely to take the athlete quota above the Olympic Charter specification of approximately 10,500. It was also highlighted that some of the sports, including team sports, may take place at existing and dedicated venues outside of Los Angeles and California.”

That opens many possibilities, some of which could be iconic.

Baseball games at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Fenway Park in Boston and Yankee Stadium in New York? Lacrosse at NCAA championship sites like Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium? Flag Football at AT&T Stadium in Dallas?

And the possibilities go further. There has been chatter that canoe slalom competitions could be moved from a temporary facility in Los Angeles to the world-class Riversports Rapids facility in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

And what about taking advantage of the world’s best waves for surfing, on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii?

These are all possibilities, not to mention out-of-area matches for football preliminaries, as was done at the Los Angeles 1984 Games – at Stanford, California, Boston, Massachusetts and Annapolis, Maryland – and the possibility to “nationalize” the 2028 Games to a modest extent could be another game-changer for the Olympic Movement in the U.S.

What is sure is that the LA28 Games is now the largest in Olympic history with at least 35 sports and possibly a 36th if boxing is finally approved. Said Stoss:

“We have to start tomorrow to talk together with the IFs and also with the Olympic program in total how and in which way we could reduce in the different disciplines and to find here a good balance between the new sports – the five new ones – and the traditional ones we have to do.”

~ Rich Perelman

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