The Olympics–particularly the Summer Olympics–are massive events featuring a ton of sports. So how does a sport get included into the Games?
First off, you can’t just make up a sport and then find it in the Olympics four years later. It’s a lot more complicated than that. Sports have to have certain elements to be considered for inclusion in the Olympics:
- The sport has an International Federation. International Federations basically run the events for their sports at the Games, so there’s got to be one overarching international governing body per sport because…
- The sport has to be practiced and organized in at least 50 countries in order to be recognized by the IOC.
- Federations have to have a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-compliant policy.
- Federations have to have regular world and continental championships.
- Federations have to be well-governed and also be independent entities.
- Sports need to demonstrate commitment to youth because you have to ensure the future existence and growth of the sport.
When you can check off these boxes, you can take the path to becoming an IOC Recognised International Sports Federation and from there you petition the IOC to get into the Games. Alternatively (and this is part of the IOC’s attempt to bring the costs of the Games down), a particular Games can also petition to have new sports included.
There’s an association for this group of International Federations called ARISF, the Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations. It’s kind of like the farm team for Olympic Sports. You hang out there and kibbitz with your fellow sporting associations about issues you have, how to stage good events, etc. You also try your darndest to get into the Olympic Games.
Some groups have been successful, like karate, surfing and climbing sports. They’re three of the five new sports you’ll see at Tokyo 2020–maybe not beyond 2020, but they’ll be in for at least that Games. When Golf got onto the program, it was guaranteed for at least two Olympics, and then it will be up for review again.
But back to the farm team players. ARISF consists of 35 members. Who are the rest of them? What are some of the potential future Olympic sports?
Tug-of-War (a former Olympic sport)
Roller Sports (FIRS has tried to get inline speed skating into the Olympics, but there are other disciplines, including inline hockey and artistic skating)
There are more–many more. And then there are sports that are trying to check off the criteria boxes in order to get into this club, like the International Pole Sports Federation and World Bowls and the International Federation overseeing fishing.
Should these sports be in the Olympics? Inclusion really means a bump in exposure and potentially participation, and increased participation is really a goal for all sports. But does a sport need the Olympics in order to be successful?