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Does popularity overshadow merit in sports? This question has gained attention recently. Take Olivia Dunne, for instance. With 8 million followers on TikTok, surpassing even Beyonce, and 5.1 million on Instagram, she’s undeniably the most famous college gymnast, boasting a NIL value of $3.9 million. But is that enough for her to go to the Paris Olympics?

Most people would say no. Then why are people backing the WNBA sensation, Caitlin Clark? While she has pushed women’s basketball to the forefront, her popularity didn’t result in her selection for the Paris Olympics roster.

Caitlin Clark’s exclusion drags Olivia Dunne’s name into the debate…

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Some supporters believe Dunne deserves a spot on the Paris 2024 Olympics team, citing her potential to further grow the sport. However, detractors question this opinion after how she did not compete in the finals for LSU Tigers’ first-ever NCAA title in gymnastics. Now, with the exclusion of Clark from the Paris roster, debates have intensified.

At just 22 years old, Caitlin Clark has already made a significant mark on the basketball world, representing the Indiana Fever in the WNBA. However, her inability to attend the training camps, despite circumstances beyond her control, presented a significant hurdle. Due to scheduling conflicts with the NCAA tournament, Clark missed both the November and April camps, depriving her of the opportunity to gel with other hopefuls and showcase her skills on the court.

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Jen Rizzotti, chair of the women’s national team committee for USA Basketball, mentioned that they took her into consideration. “This has been a three-year process for us. Caitlin, in addition to other players that didn’t make the team, have been evaluated on their whole body of work. There were definitely some unique circumstances surrounding Caitlin, but at the end of the day, I’m proud our committee stayed honed in on the selection criteria… None of those criteria talk about TV viewership or marketability.”

The criteria for selection were as below:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • Availability
  • Position
  • Playing ability
  • Versatility to play other positions
  • Coachability
  • Attitude
  • Adaptability to team concept
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability to the international game
  • Likelihood of contributing to the success of the team

USA Today via Reuters

Iowa’s advancement to the Final Four forced Clark to withdraw from the training camp, even though she was officially included on the invitee list for April’s camp. This further complicated her chances of making the team. Moreover, the selection committee seemed to prioritize experience in crafting the Olympic roster, evident in their preference for seasoned players, with the youngest being Sabrina Ionescu at 26 years old. But what did Clark have to say about her exclusion?

Well, the WNBA star was optimistic. While it is her dream to be on the Olympic roster, she looks forward to achieving that in the future. “That’s a dream. Hopefully, one day I can be there. I think it’s just a little more motivation.”

But let us take this into consideration. The U.S. has won every gold medal in women’s basketball since the Atlanta Olympics (1996). Of course, the criteria would be tight. Regardless, fans shared their thoughts on social media. What did they say?

Diverging views on media attention and athletic merit

Among the numerous fans expressing their opinions, a few standout remarks shed light on contrasting perspectives. One fan voiced relief. “So glad gymnastics isn’t getting the attention womens basketball is rn bc i just know there would be an adamant group of people saying livvy should be on the olympic team bc she would ‘grow the sport’ and idk if i can take that.”

Another fan drew parallels between Livvy Dunne’s media coverage and articles touting her achievements despite minimal participation. “Genuinely the same vibes of those articles that were like ‘livvy dunne and the lsu tigers clinch national championship’ when she did zero routines at nationals.” This observation highlights the potential disparity between media hype and actual athletic prowess.

However, can the same be said about Clark? If we look at her NCAA history, she is surely one of the strongest players. Remember how the former University of Iowa player broke the men’s Division 1 scoring record on March 3? With a career total of 3,685 points, she successfully established herself as the highest-scoring player in NCAA history.

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Hence, a fan acknowledged the validity of including Caitlin Clark in Olympic discussions. “While the ‘grow the sport’ takes are bad…at least Clark belonged in the conversation for the team and you can make a basketball argument for her. Livvy…not so much xD.”

Similarly, another fan emphasized the disparity in talent and accomplishments by stating, “Livy isn’t half the talent of Caitlin so they’re not comparable in that sense. Livy is a social media sensation but her resume of accomplishments doesn’t compare at all to Caitlin’s so big difference. She’s more like how Ana Kournikova was in tennis than she is to Caitlin IMO.”

Let us not forget that in the month of February, Caitlin Clark broke multiple Division 1 records. Think about the NCAA women’s scoring record and the major college records. Finally, when she joined the WNBA, many also started discussing how underpaid she was when comparing her pay to that of male basketball players.

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Finally, one fan expressed frustration with biased and uninformed opinions. “Agreed and some of those answers we always get the ugly ones and finally someone is different. Maybe I am wrong, but I thought it was a sport.”

Well, the decision has been made. Olympic veterans like Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Napheesa Collier, Jewell Loyd, Chelsea Gray, and Kelsey Plum will go to Paris. Do you think Clark can make it to the next Olympic roster?