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Fishing as an Olympic Sport? Still Waiting for the IOC to Bite

20 Feb, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The recent rumblings from enthusiasts hoping to see cricket back on the Olympic podium (it was last featured there in 1900) brings to mind another sport that last appeared there in 1900, and whose enthusiasts would like to see it come back: fishing.

When we last checked in (November 2016), we learned the international governing body for fishing (the Confederation Internationale de la Peche Sportive, CIPS, or International Federation for Sport Fishing) had applied for Olympic status in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

And then there was silence. And while we already know the list of sports we’ll see in Tokyo doesn’t include fishing (new sports chosen were surfing, karate, baseball/softball, skateboard and competitive climbing), we never found out what happened to fishing.

 Bassmaster published a blog on the subject in late 2017 when Team USA came in second at the Black Bass Championship in South Africa. That made the writer, Mike Suchan, explore the potential of bass fishing as an Olympic sport.

In the blog, Team USA’s Fred Roumbanis said he believed the country’s second-place finish (in a sport historically dominated by Americans) would open the door to Olympic inclusion.

“It’s was an incredible deal for us to get the silver medal,” Roumbanis said. “I think the chances of it being accepted by the Olympic committee will grow better with us not winning right now – we don’t want to go in and win all the time. I think it will help other countries’ confidence that they have a shot.”

According to Roumbanis and to his team member, James Watson, the time was right for the IOC to consider bass fishing as a competitive sport. The blog noted, “There are organizations around the globe working in that direction, which are being facilitated by the international tournaments.”

Tony Forte, vice president of U.S. Angling, the organization that oversees all of America's competitive efforts in fishing on an international level, says the sport has a competitive global reach. There are, he notes, currently World and Pan-American events for four fishing classifications: Freshwater, Saltwater, Fly, and Distance Surf Casting. U.S. Angling is responsible for fielding teams from this country. These include Bass Fishing, Ice fishing, Fly Fishing (Youth, Adult, Masters), Kayak Bass Fishing, Predator Fishing, Bankfishing  (Adult, Ladies), Carp fishing and Big Game Saltwater fishing.

"Our sports in development," Forte says, "are Youth & Disabled Bank Fishing, Women’s Fly fishing, Saltwater Surf Fishing (Adult, Ladies and Youth)."

The most successful of these programs is the Youth Fly Fishing Team, with a succession of gold medals on the world stage. 

And, Forte says, CIPS did, in fact, formally submit an application to become a Recognized IOC Sport. "The feedback is that fishing has become 'a sport of interest.' The International Olympic Committee is looking for data on global media awareness, increased gender diversification and overall nation count increase. U.S. Angling is working hard with CIPS to achieve these goals."

While it is highly unlikely fishing will appear in Paris in 2024, fishing enthusiasts still have many reasons to be positive about the long-term future of the sport at the international level. One interesting aspect of fishing is that it could be implemented as both a winter and summer Olympic sport, with variations for cold weather such as ice fishing.

Fishing is also widely supported by an industry that produces boats, motors, rods, waders and a range of gear too wide to mention – with many of those manufacturers already involved as sponsors of various sports events. The money, it would seem, is almost certainly present in the industry, and could be used to propel participation initiatives, as well as education and training for athletes.

There are, however, a number of obstacles and one of the most formidable is the lack of consistency in fishing waters and species in each destination the Olympics are held. It also raises the question of variables such as bait and tackle as well as watercraft. Would these be standardized?

“It’s unclear what the target species would be,” notes an article in Field & Stream on the subject.

One thing is for sure: the host nation (and its closest neighbors) would almost certainly have an advantage, having long been accustomed to fishing for indigenous species in those waters. Of course, a similar advantage is held by nations with a great deal of natural snow and ice when it comes to many winter pastimes such as ski jumping and speed skating.

If fishing does make it over the initial hurdle and into consideration, it will be not only the Confederation, but local and national tournament groups in each country helping to map out a course for the sport, and providing input to create events that everyone can agree are fair.

The one time fishing featured in the Olympics, the Games were held in Paris and fishing was listed as an unofficial sport. According to the BBC, six nations (including France) took part in the event and the results were not documented. Wikipedia notes that some 600 fishermen, of whom 40 were from the five countries other than France, participated in four separate events.

And then, like cricket, also held that same year, it was never seen again in the Games.

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