Billiards in the 2004 Olympic Games
Pre-edited version of the published article in the Billiard Gazette, about 1997
In the summer of 1996, the International Olympic Committee granted provisional
recognition to the World Confederation of Billiard Sports. This was a major step toward ennobling billiards as an Olympic game. If all goes according to plan, we’ll see it played in the 2004 games.
Even a casual investigation into the story and charm of the sport shows just how appropriate this induction will be. It is a wonderful challenge. Like golf or archery, it takes extreme concentration and eye hand coordination. Like chess, it is a game of strategy. Like bowling, it is played alone or in a group. It is played indoors, in any weather with virtually no danger of injury to the player. Unlike many sports, it favors no special body build or conditioning. Although necessary to some degree, billiards is more a game of concentration and knowledge than physical ability. This allows both men and women, young and old to compete on an equal basis.
The various games of billiards have a glorious history dating back even before the renaissance and played by such European nobles as Mary Queen of Scots, Kings Louis XI, XIII, and XIV. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were avid billiard players. Even King James I, had his own table. By the 17th century the game was so popular that nearly every town in England had a public billiard table. In 1825 President John Quincy Adams installed a billiard table in the White House. Although Andrew Jackson later had it removed, Ulysses S. Grant installed another. By the mid 1800's billiard tables were everywhere, in barbershops, train stations, hotels, restaurants and of course saloons. It had become a national past‑time.
Sadly, in America sometime during the last century billiards began to suffer the bad rap of being associated with gambling and vice. To pass the time, billiard tables were placed in the pool rooms at horse races. At that time the term pool meant "collective bet." In time the term pool became associated with billiards and it has stuck to this day. Of course the rest of the world still calls the game billiards.
In reality billiards has no more or less association with gambling than does any other sport. Golf, bowling, basketball, boxing, football, yes and even baseball, attract a substantial crowd of those inclined to wager. Ironically, the same things that make billiards such an appealing participant sport are the things that make it seem inordinately associated with gambling. It is a very wide spread sport, played in nearly every village in the world. It is competitive, inexpensive, easily accessible, easy to learn yet very difficult to master. And, it is relatively quick to play.
In recent years the Billiards Congress of America (BCA) has gone to great lengths to improve the quality of play and the image of the sport. They have grand plans for its future. To date there are nearly two hundred instructors certified by the BCA, each committed to bringing the sport of pocket billiards in the United States to the level it enjoys throughout Asia and Europe. Each BCA instructor has demonstrated three things to achieve this status. A determined required level of expertise in the mechanical ability to play the game. A proficient level of knowledge about the game. And a proved ability to teach the game to others.
We have begun to realize that we cannot hold the sport liable for the undesirable activities of certain individuals. Increasingly, Americans are rediscovering this ancient sport that the rest of the world has loved for centuries. The appeal of billiards is spread, played competitively in nearly every country of the world. Young, old, male, female, small people and large, rich and poor, even those physically disabled play the game. It is extremely popular throughout Europe, Asia and Canada. Far more so than here in the United States. Even so a recent survey showed that billiards is the third most popular participant sport in the nation. Since a similar poll ten years ago, the popularity of billiards has grown by 26%, while the population has only experienced a 12% growth. Bowling is still the number one sports activity with slightly more than 52 million participants per year. Basketball is second with nearly 46 million, and billiards has close to 45 million participants.
Today, there are clean, no smoking, no drinking billiard rooms in almost every city. Give it a shot. Take the family out for an evening of billiards. You never know, maybe you have a future Olympic champion living in your midst.
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