When is a sport too dangerous?

It’s a commonly accepted notion that the more exciting a sport is, the more likely fans are to watch it. Let’s face it – who doesn’t want to witness brilliant athletes completing seemingly impossible acts while pushing the limits of human capabilities? Never does this hold more true than at the Winter Olympics, where athletes fly downhill on skis and perform incredible moves in numerous jumping events.

One in ten: Those were the odds that an athlete would get seriously injured while competing in the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. According to the International Olympic Committee IOC’s injury tracking at those games, 35 percent of the ski and snowboard cross athletes were injured. What price are we willing to pay for athletes to entertain us with daring endeavors? What is the solution for a competition where one in three of the world’s best athletes are put out of action with serious injuries?

Of particular concern is the sport of slopestyle, in which athletes compete over rails and jumps on a snowboard or on skis. The sport made its debut for men and women at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, yet its time as an Olympic sport may be short-lived. As far as entertainment goes, it was one of the big hits of the games. The sport, however, isn’t popular with everyone. Lars Engebretsen, a Norwegian orthopedic surgeon, is an advocate for removing the sport from the games.

“Right now, the injury rate as it was in Sochi was too high to be a sport that we have in the Olympics,” Engebretsen said. “I can say what I feel: That sport should change, otherwise we shouldn’t have it. But the IOC may not follow that. Something has to be done with that sport.”

Even some athletes withdrew from the slopestyle competition before the games, citing that they were fearful of getting injured. The most notable of the withdrawals was U.S. star Shaun White.

“With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on,” White said.

The controversy around slopestyle and the Winter games raises an interesting question: How dangerous do sports need to be to attract an audience? The simple fact is that if people stopped watching events such as slopestyle, these competitions would no longer be held. And yet the “success” of the sport in 2014 indicates that as an audience, we crave danger and perilous events.

So how can we make the necessary changes? It’s up to the IOC to remove slopestyle from the Olympics. It’s up to us to not demand that athletes put their lives at risk for our entertainment. It’s time to acknowledge that some sports are unreasonably dangerous and that entertainment should not have such a high price.

nolans@stolaf.edu

Graphic Credit: EMMA JOHNSON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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