Fishing is one of the most popular recreational activities in the world. According to research published in 2012 nearly 100,000 people a month go fishing in England and Wales, and there are thought to be around 50 million anglers in the USA. Although precise figures for total participation worldwide are near impossible to calculate, they must number in the hundreds of millions.
For many, fishing, much like golf, is not seen as a sport but a hobby. This could all be about to change, however, as the Confederation International de la Peche Sportive - the governing body of competitive fishing worldwide – has announced that it has presented an application for Olympic recognition for the sport. The application includes freshwater, sea, fly, and sport fishing, and would operate on a strict catch and release basis.
The president of the CIPS, Mr Ferenc Szalay said: “I would like to confirm we are convinced that obtaining this recognition, and becoming member of the Olympic family, it would be very important for CIPS; because besides giving a great additional contribution for promoting not only the fishing sport but the universal sport, it would enlarge the development and the universality of the Olympic idea all over the world."
The similarities with golf, which was included in this summer’s Rio Olympics - don’t just stop at some people’s scepticism. Like golf, fishing has been part of the games before, when it was included as an exhibition event at the 1900 Olympics. 600 people took part in the competition. Both are mass-participation sports, with associated industries worth billions each year, but both struggle to attract young people in today’s world, and for similar reasons: the perceived cost of participation, somewhat arcane traditions, the length of time that the average fishing session lasts, something of a ‘fusty’ image, and access to facilities.
However, there are significant differences, which present CIPS with some challenges. Chief among these is that there is a well-established and popular international golf scene – indeed, to such an extent that some of the game’s top players didn’t travel to Rio – and golfers are some of the best known and most highly paid sportsmen and women in the world. While competitive fishing does have a well-established international competition, it attracts far less media coverage. With media attention comes money, and with money comes glamour, and it could be said that the sport will struggle to convey the same level of prestige.
There is also a question as to how exciting fishing would be as a live spectator sport – so much of the actual action takes place below the surface, but maybe advances in technology between now and 2020 will solve that problem.
We’re all for encouraging more people into the sport and hope that the application is a success. The inclusion of fishing in the games would be of obvious advantage to host nations, who would be able to showcase their rural and coastal assets, as well as those of the host city, so maybe there’s hope!