Obviously, in the wake of Jordyn Wieber missing out on the All-Around final, the subject of the two-per-country rule has come to the forefront once again. This is perhaps a positive side-effect of the result because it leads people to remember that this rule needs to be addressed.
However, I am a little resentful of the way this rule is being discussed both in gymnastics and in the wider sports media. Now, I agree with the large majority of people that a three-per-country rule makes more sense for our sport because it would provide a more engaging final competition and because the two-per-country rule doesn’t do anything. (I don’t buy this fairness argument, though, because sport isn’t fair. That’s what makes it sport. If it were fair, the US would be fielding a team of 11 here and everyone would get a participation trophy.) The true reasons this change should be made are getting lost behind emotion and a lack of understanding and explanation.
While everyone is quick to jump on the current rule and say how terrible it is because it was mean to Jordyn, during last night’s NBC broadcast, for instance, not a single person stopped to explain why the rule exists in the first place. There is an actual reason there. It’s not just arbitrary. The two-per-country rule is intended to encourage the international nature of the sport, cultivate the opportunities (and attention given to those opportunities) for people in countries without gymnastics history or a major program, and ultimately create a worldwide sport with true international parity. (I apologize for the use of parity. I’ve been watching NCAA for too long.)
I think we can all agree that those noble aims make complete sense and would nurture the health of the sport. While misguided, the FIG is at least coming from right place. However, the rule does not work because you cannot hope to build gymnastics programs by starting at the top and suddenly giving access at major competitions to people who aren’t prepared for it. Artificially bringing in gymnasts who don’t have the talent level to participate doesn’t make the country stronger. The attention needs to be paid to the lower levels of the sport, to increasing funding and access on the junior and domestic levels (note that this is difficult, which is why the FIG chooses instead to pay lip service to the idea with a stupid rule).
Creating a more international sport has to start from the youngest gymnasts at the smallest clubs, not at the Olympics. That’s why the two-per-country rule doesn’t do anything. That’s why we should get rid of it, and that’s what we should be talking about. Right now, the argument against the rule is coming from a “the thing I wanted to happen didn’t happen so now I want the rules to be changed!” place, which is petulant to say the least.