Tug of War was once an Olympic sport. Believe it or not, so was croquet. Ballroom dancing served as a demonstration sport at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games before it found its rightful home on Dancing With The Stars.
You know what’s never been an Olympic sport? Billiards, that’s what. For decades, the sport has sought an invitation to the party but continues to be snubbed by the International Olympic Committee.
Naysayers will try to suggest that shooting pool is nothing more than a recreational activity but the same argument could be made against current Summer Olympic sports such as badminton or table tennis.
However, those who’d dare suggest that the elite Olympic-caliber players in those competitions are in any way similar to people who play the same game in their backyard or basement is comparing apples to oranges. It would be the same suggesting that the game you and your friends play at the local pool hall resembles the level of play produced by Taiwan’s Ping Chung Ko, Germany’s Joshua Filler, or Shane Van Boening of the United States, the top three players in the World Pool Association rankings.
Even though the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is pushing the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympiad back a year, the only pool you’ll see as part of those games is the 50-metre version that will be populated by swimmers and divers.
The next opportunity for pool to make its case to the IOC for inclusion will be the 2024 Summer Games in Paris, or perhaps at Los Angeles in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics. But don’t rush out expecting to place a prop wager via an online sports book on the odds of billiards becoming an Olympic sport.
Reyes Pushing Olympic Agenda
Every cause needs its champion. For the past two decades, Efren (Bata) Reyes has championed the cause of getting pool into the Olympic Games.
Known as The Magician, there’s little left to be added to the lengthy resume of accomplishments assembled by the Filipino star. Reyes is a winner of over 80 international titles. He was the first player in the history of the sport to win world championships in two different disciplines.
Reyes is a four-time World Eight-ball Champion. He also captured the 1999 WPA World Nine-ball Champion in Cardiff, Wales.
As well, Reyes is a two-time World Cup champion, a three-time U.S. Open winner, a two-time World Pool League winner and a 13-time Derby City Classic winner. He’s captured an unprecedented five Master of the Table crowns.
A deadly-accurate shot maker and as consistent as the day is long, many in the game acknowledge Reyes as the finest pool shooter who’s ever lived.
At the age of 65, Reyes recognizes that his best days of playing the game are behind him.
“My hands hurt, my eyesight is already poor,” Reyes told Rappler.com. “There are plenty of tournaments I wasn’t able to join.
“It has become hard for me.”
Regardless, that hasn’t halted his drive to attain the one quest that isn’t accessible to world-class pool players such as himself.
Reyes wants the chance to compete for an Olympic gold medal.
“I’m already old, what more do I have to achieve?,” Reyes asked. “Nothing else. I’ve long wanted to play in the Olympics but it didn’t happen.”
Reyes has won medals in Asian and Southeast Asian Games competition. He was a bronze medalist in singles at last year’s Southeast Asian Games in front of his countrymen in Manila.
The legendary player maintains the dream of walking in the opening ceremonies of an Olympic Games and representing his country.
The Philippines is still seeking its first-ever Olympic gold medal. Reyes figures that the country’s sensational billiard players could deliver that elusive golden moment if only they were given the chance.
Johann Gonzales Chua (13th) and Carlo Biado (15th) are rated in the top 15 of the WPA rankings. Rubilen Amit is a two-time women’s world champion.
“We still don’t have a gold medal in the Olympics, but we probably would have won one in billiards,” Reyes said.
Could They Rack It Up In Paris?
Pool has actively sought to become an Olympic sport since the 1950s and the battle is ongoing.
Two of the most powerful organizations in the sport – the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association and the World Confederation of Billiards – have joined forces to make a concerted push to gain Olympic participation at the 2024 Paris Summer Games for both billiards and snooker.
The same organizations bid for a place in the upcoming Tokyo Olympiad but were denied. However, the leaders of the movement aren’t planning to give up their efforts.
“We know we are a strong sport, we will come bouncing back,” WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson told BBC Sport. “We think we deserve our chance.”
Pro-billiards supporters put forth the argument that with over 200 competitions worldwide each year, their sport is among the most played on the planet.
Detractors insist that pool is a game and not a sport. Olympic officials also express concern that one country could prove capable of sweeping the medals if pool were included in an Olympiad.
Currently, Taiwan is home to three of the WPA’s top six-ranked players and four of the top 20. However, there are a dozen countries represented in the WPA top 20.