2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Bring the World Together but Miss Niche Sport Bandy

Only one occasion can bring together 2,500 athletes from 89 nations in the spirit of creating a peaceful and better world through sportsmanship. Of course, I’m talking about the XXII Olympic Winter Games, taking place from February 7 – February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. This year 2,500 athletes will compete in 98 events across 15 winter sports disciplines, including Biathlon, Bobsleigh, Curling, Ice Hockey, Luge, Skating and Skiing.  Americans will surely be rooting for our favorite athletes in highly anticipated events – to salute Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild lead as captain of the U.S. men’s hockey team, to watch the flawless twirls of Yuna Kim and the U.S. Figure Skating Team, and to be amazed by Shaun White and the U.S. National team’s impossible snowboarding stunts.

While ice hockey, figure skating, and snowboarding have become commonplace in the winter competition, other events are mysterious still. Biathlon, for instance, will supply 11 individual events.  For the unfamiliar, Biathlon can refer to any two discipline mixed sporting event, but in Winter Olympic lingo, it refers specifically to cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The sport originated in the 1800s as a military exercise for Norwegian soldiers, but made its debut in the 1960 Squaw Valley, CA Winter Olympics. While no longer used as an alternative to militia, the athletes competing in these events still train long and train hard!  Biathlon events will include men and women’s individual pursuit, team relay, and sprint.

Spectators will also have their chance to view curling, the Winter Olympics, arguably, slowest-paced team sport. Curling is a winter sport related to shuffleboard and lawn bowling, in which teams of four hurl a large granite stone across a sheet of ice towards a target of concentric circles called the “house” while teammates buff the ice with a broom for improved distance.  While curling doesn’t have the same element of danger as other events, its teams succeed only with their own balance, precision, and athleticism.  We will see both men’s and women’s teams compete this year, however the proposal for mixed gender teams have been rejected this time around.

The powerful Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee (IOC) oversees all Olympic regulations from deciding the host city to handling allegations of doping, and has the power to veto petitions for mixed teams along with proposal for new sports presence. Bandy, a fast paced high scoring cross between soccer and ice hockey popular in the Twin Cities, Sweden, and Russia attempted to bid its way into the Sochi Olympic Games this year in large part with efforts by the Russian Olympic Committee. Bandy appeared in the 1952 Oslo, Norway, games as a demonstration sport, but has since failed to meet official inclusion for competition.  Niche sports like Bandy fail to meet Olympic criteria such as global recognition across 75 countries, over four continents. While Bandy has been recognized since 2004 as an official sport by the IOC – meaning it has an international federation including 25 national federations which compete in a world championship – it will not be a competing event in this year’s games.

Enthusiasts of Bandy, players, and coaches must harness the ability to think critically and act strategically in their approach to bidding on the sports inclusion in the Olympic Games to beat the complicated nature of the IOC.  "You have a long list of sports trying to get onto the program because it is their one way to showcase their sport to the world," explained former IOC marketing director Michael Payne in an interview with CNN. "The IOC undertakes a very detailed technical analysis to understand the popularity of the sport, the number of players, infrastructure, TV, media and then finally takes a vote to decide which new sport is welcomed onto the program." Like taking on a new business partner, when deciding whether a sport will be included in the Olympics, the IOC must see a new sport as an investment with a return to the Olympic program. How can a sport like Bandy enhance the games? Also, how does it influence the Olympic spirit, vision, and mission? The sport is scrutinized alongside competing bids for limited spots, and if successful, earns its place in the Olympic Games.

It is unlikely that a sport such as Bandy could simply become an overnight sensation and enter the next planned Olympics. With many factors scrutinized by the IOC, the pressure falls on its international federation where a well-developed business acumen is necessary to maintain international standards.  For a successful campaign, the federation must use tactical marketing approaches in promotion of its athletes and world championship to increase popularity for the game. The federation must maintain its integrity and ethical practices to stay in line with the Olympic charter and fight against doping practices. It must also practices resourcefulness and proper financial management to maintain its autonomy.

Campaigning for a sports entrance into the Olympics is not unlike starting a new business. In fact, many of the transferable skills are evident. Athletes, coaches, and federation organizers start with their passion. Then, they must use implement a strategy so they can introduce the world to the sport they love. As experts and seasoned leaders, athlete’s promotion and marketing tactics can make all the difference in the perception of a niche sport like bandy. Finally, they must continue to make sound business decisions to uphold the regulations and ethical standards necessary for the sports longevity.

The University of St. Thomas’ Executive Education offers professional development opportunities for Twin Cities Bandy enthusiasts interested in maximizing their Olympic campaigns or for any individual who would like to translate the aforementioned skills into applicable knowledge directly to their career. In the Mini MBA Program, participants develop business acumen while experiencing an environment of collaborative leadership development, offered in both day time and evening formats to. Meanwhile, the Online Mini MBA Program offers participants the ability to make smarter business decisions and increased capacity to lead from a 100% flexible, 100% virtual platform.

Bandy or no Bandy, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics are sure to bring admiration, diplomacy, and entertainment across the globe in its 13 days of competition. The world will watch as disciplined athletes make their dreams of competing in the Olympics come true and as nations are rewarded with bronze, silver, and gold victories. The University of St. Thomas’ Executive Education applauds the examples of discipline and leadership apparent in all the athletes who will be competing in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. And while we’re not all athletes, we all have the ability to educate ourselves, develop skills, and use our talents to make the world a more inclusive and better place to live in.