The world Games are coming to the United States!
(Queue quizzical looks and head-scratching.)
What are the World Games?
I'm glad you asked.
For all practical purposes, the World Games is charm school for sports that are desperately trying to gain admission into the Olympic Games. I suppose it could also be viewed as a sort of Olympics purgatory.
Like the Olympic Games, the World Games are staged every four years, and feature thousands of athletes from around the world competing in some 25 sports - including squash, gymnastics, sumo wrestling and roller sports. A sport must have official recognition from the International Olympic Committee to participate in the World Games. The World Confederation of Billiard Sports (WCBS), the governing body of cue sports, is, indeed, recognized by the IOC, and cue sports (9-ball, snooker and 3-cushion) has been part of the World Games program since 2001.
Recently, the International World Games Association (IWGA) announced that Birmingham, Ala., will host the 2021 World Games. (See related item in "Wing Shots," pg. 14.) "We are happy to showcase our sports in Birmingham in July 2021," wrote IWGA President Jose Perunrena. "We are sure that we will be offered optimal conditions for our sportsmen and women there."
While certainly not the Olympics, inclusion in the World Games is still vitally important to the cue sports. It offers visibility on a global stage. It offers an opportunity to showcase the sport in front of media, potential sponsors and federation heads from around the world. Make no mistake, were the cue sports ever to be included in the Olympic Games, the opportunity to grow the sport globally cannot be underestimated.
In short, having the World Games in America is an opportunity that the billiard community in the U.S. should take very seriously and should start planning for now!
I have only one direct experience with the World Games. I attended the games in Duisburg, Germany, in 2005. Firstly, I was anxious to attend a large international multi-sport event. Seeing athletes from around the world, representing a variety of sports, gathered in one place sounded fascinating. I pictured athletes walking around the "World Games village" in sweat suits adorned with their national team name, exchanging national federation pins with other athletes and discussing their various sports. I pictured a bustling press center, massive opening and closing ceremonies, and enthusiastic crowds.
Mostly, I pictured cue sports athletes co-mingling in this incredible atmosphere. What an experience they will have, I thought. How proud they will be.
Unfortunately, while Duisburg bustled and buzzed with activity and excitement, like I'd hoped, the cue sports were barely a part of the scene. In its infinite wisdom, the host European Billiard Federation allowed the cue sports competitions to be staged nearly 30 miles away, in the hometown of the German Billiard Federation president.
The result? Does the phrase, "Out of sight, out of mind," help tell the story?
Pool players, snooker players and carom players competed in almost absolute anonymity. The venue, while beautifully laid out, featured only a smattering of fans...most of them friends and families of the athletes. The press was non-existent, and only a few IWGA and IOC officials even bothered to poke their heads in the door.
In the end, the players, who traveled for nothing more than a chance at a medal, may just as well have been playing in a weekend tournament at a poolroom in Outer Mongolia.
I cannot speak to the arangements or atmosphere that greeted the cue sports in the subsequent World Games in 2009 and 2014, but I can take this time to urge the U.S. billiard community to heed these words at it prepares for the 2021 World Games in Birmingham.
Again, gaining recognition and acceptance as an international sport is important to billiards. Often times, recognition and acceptance on the international sports landscape results in government funding and corporate support.
Billiards doesn't get many opportunities to impress global media and sports officials. Take the time to plan a memorable experience for both the athletes and the people this sport is trying to impress. Create an atmosphere that says, "Check us out! We belong!"
Mostly, don't get caught up in politics and make the same mistakes that rendered 2005 worthless.
I hope the Billiard Congress of America, which is the North American confederation recognized by the World Pool-Billiard Association (which, in turn, is pool's umbrella member of the WBCS), finds a way to get involved in the organization and production of the cue sports' program. Done properly, the BCA could be an asset in rallying support for the industry.
Heck, with the 2021 World Games scheduled for July, the BCA could even consider Birmingham for the 2021 International Expo.
The point is, the U.S. will have a great opportunity to show the cue sports in the best possible light. Let's not blow it.