Think of a sport. An ancient, traditional and popular sport. A game whereby the objective is to hit a ball using a specially-shaped implement. A sport which is unquestionably British but at which the UK players are regularly outclassed by colonial opposition.
Chances are, you're thinking of either cricket or golf1. And, equally, the chances are that you wouldn't think of them as Olympic sports. In the 21st Century, the International Olympic Committee places them near the bottom of 'potential' Olympic sports - behind BMX racing, surfing and even bridge. The reasons why these seemingly harmless pastimes are so unfavoured may well be concealed in a history of mismanagement, incompetence and lack of interest...
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, despite his aristocratic French title, actually had strong links with England and English sports. His original plans for the Modern Olympic games were based on a similar annual tradition in the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock. Plans were drawn up for cricket at the inaugural 1896 Olympics, but had to be shelved when only one team - England, unsurprisingly - entered.
Original plans had Paris sharing ownership of the second Summer Games, in 1900, with Amsterdam and Brussels. Four teams were therefore entered for the cricket: England, France, Holland and Belgium. When it was announced that all the Olympic events were to be held in Paris, Holland and Belgium swiftly withdrew their teams, and cricket's future in the Olympics looked to be under threat.
The day of the Games dawned, and the French organisers had not yet set a schedule for the Olympic cricket fixtures2, nor had their national team been selected. Luckily, help was to hand, in the unlikely shape of the Devon And Somerset Wanderers club...
True to their name, the Wanderers had no home ground, and made several tours a year of various regions of Britain and France. This was their first venture to the French capital, and their match against a French Embassy team was optimistically billed as 'England v France'. Optimistic, note, because the 'France' team were entirely made up of British expatriates. Keen not to let their twelfth men act as mere substitutes, the opposing captains agreed to a twelve-a-side match. This is perhaps a clue that a formal match wasn't the foremost intention.
Over the course of a two-day game, starting Sunday 19 August, the French Embassy (78 & 26) were soundly beaten by the Wanderers (117 & 145-5dec). Bowerman (who had played first-class cricket with Somerset) and Beachcroft both scored half centuries in the English second innings. The victors were awarded silver medals and the losers bronze medals - in the day, there were no formal medal ceremonies, and the practice of awarding gold, silver and bronze only started four years later.
Both teams drank heartily after the match3, the Wanderers went on to win two further one-day games in Paris and returned home to the South-west. Neither team had any idea that they had participated in the Olympics.
It wasn't until 1912, when statisticians realised that a formal record of past Olympics might be in order, that the match became formally part of the Games. Because the cricket match had taken place within the Olympic dates, it was decided that this match would constitute Olympic cricket for the year. No matter that the official span of the 1900 Games was from May to October, encompassing the entire cricket season and therefore any cricket matches played in Paris that year. Evidently the statisticians were bamboozled by the 'England v France' billing and the fact that the intended Olympic cricket competition had never taken place.
The venue for the 1904 Olympic Games was St Louis, USA. The USA not being renowned for its appreciation of cricket, there was no proposition of a cricket competition, and the idea had fallen out of vogue by the 1908 London Olympics.
Cricket has not been played at the Olympic Games since.
Records show that golf competitions were held in Paris for both Ladies and Gentlemen. However, it is notable that most of the entrants were primarily entered for other sports, and modern opinion is that a casual golf competition between competitors was enthusiastically upgraded into an official Olympic sport, in much the same way that cricket had been. Certainly, none of the day's leading golfers were present. For the record, the winners were Charles Sands and Margaret Abbot (both of whom had originally entered for the tennis).
At the turn of the 20th Century, golf in the USA was massive. Word had spread far from the original Scottish links, and courses were being built near virtually every town. It came as no surprise when the St Louis games pencilled in golf as an official sport for the 1904 Summer Games. The best players in North America fell over themselves to enter, although the leading British players - then the best in the world - declined to make the trip across the Atlantic4. This meant, not for the last time, that an Olympic event would be almost completely dominated by USA competitors.
'Almost' was the key word. Although American teams took gold and silver in the team event, the leading golfers of the day found themselves outclassed by Canadian all-round sportsman, George Lyon. In a 36-hole matchplay final, he beat Chandler Egan three-and-two at St Louis' Glen Echo Country Club. With his enormous drives, and undoubted natural flair for the game (he had only taken it up three years earlier), Lyon quickly became a cult hero.
The 1904 golf competition had been a roaring success and had attracted upwards of 80 competitors. Not to be outdone, the British Olympic Association (BOA) planned something altogether bigger and better. Unfortunately, they did not foresee several problems:
A wildly ambitious format - The intention of the BOA was to make each competitor play six rounds of golf over just three days. Results would then count towards both the individual competition and the team competition. As if this wasn't tiring enough, the Association decided that these rounds would take place at three different courses: Royal St George's, Cinque Ports and Prince's. At the time these were the most testing, and potentially most exhausting, courses in the British Isles.
Poor scheduling - For no good reason, the BOA decided upon the first week in June for Olympic golf. This meant that high-calibre entrants would be playing less than a week after three important back-to-back events: the St George's Cup, the British Amateur Championship, and the International Match between England and Scotland.
The Royal & Ancient were not informed - The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of Great Britain claims authority over all that happens in the world of golf, in much the same way that the MCC do in cricket and the Jockey Club do in horse racing. Failure to inform or involve them was the straw that broke the camel's back. More out of outrage than through any genuine objection, the R&A publicly criticised all Olympic golf plans, and all British contestants withdrew out of loyalty.
The top American golfers were unwilling to make the trip, as the British had been four years earlier, and in the end only one man entered: George Lyon. Two days before competition was due to begin, the BOA announced that the Olympic golf competition had been abandoned. They offered a gold medal to Lyon, but with common sense and dignity, he declined.
Golf has not been played at the Olympic Games since.