An age old discussion: what sports should be ‘Olympic sports’?

Published 30 July 2012 | Authored by: Kevin Carpenter

Chapter 5-III of the Olympic Charter , which is "the codification of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, Rules and Bye-Laws adopted by the International Olympic Committee ('IOC') [which] governs the organisation, action and operation of the Olympic movement", splits the 'Olympic Programme' into (Rule 45.2):


• Sports – those sports governed by International Federations ('IFs');
• Disciplines – a branch of sport comprising one or several events; and
• Events – are competitions in a sport or one of its disciplines, that result in a ranking and giving rise to the award of medals and diplomas.

So far so good. Bye-law 2 to Rule 45 (BLR 45.2) says that the programme consists of a sports core and additional sports (BLR 45.2.1.1). The core includes 25 sports from those governed by a designated list of IFs (BLR 45.2.1.2). Not all IFs are on this list. For example the World Squash Federation or the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile ('FIA') for motorsports. As to the latter, the IOC does not usually consider sports that depend primarily on mechanical propulsion, although the FIA has since January this year temporary recognition by the IOC. The amount of sports in total is capped at 28 (BLR 45.2.1.4).

However many people say that, of the current sports, football and tennis should not be in the Olympics as winning a gold medal is not the pinnacle, rather the World Cup and the Grand Slams are. Some sports have special criteria for Olympic participation, like boxing where they have to be amateurs, and football has the same in that the players have to be under 23 (except for the 3 players allowed in the squad over the age limit.) However, international footballers under 23 are often already competing in the World Cup. This begs the question: what is the criteria for a sport to be considered for inclusion in the Olympics?

On the IOC website under 'How does a sport become Olympic?' it says the following,
"To make it onto the Olympic programme, a sport first has to be recognised: it must be administered by an IF which ensures that the sport's activities follow the Olympic Charter. If it is widely practised around the world and meets a number of criteria established by the IOC Session, a recognised sport may be added to the Olympic programme on the recommendation of the IOC's Olympic Programme Commission."

There criteria are to be found in the IOC document 'Evaluation criteria for sports and disciplines - 2012'. There are 8 Themes (General, Governance, History and Tradition, Universality, Popularity, Athletes, Development of the IF/Sport and Finance) under which sits 39 Criteria and 74 Items. An analysis of this document may well be the subject of a further blog at a later date but all that there is to say presently is that it is a comprehensive set of criteria for the IOC Session to consider.

The last group of sports to attempt to be included for the Games was for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro: golf, squash, rugby sevens, baseball, softball, roller sports, ruby sevens and karate. In October 2009 at the Olympic Congress in Copenhagen the members of the IOC voted for golf and rugby sevens to be included. Rugby sevens cruised through with 81 votes to eight, whilst golf's election by 63 votes to 27 came after a tough final 72 hours of campaigning. The International Golf Federation had to overcome complaints about the voting process and the fact that some high profile clubs exclude women members (e.g. Augusta National, home of The Masters, and St Andrews, the base for the Royal & Ancient golf's governing body).

In my opinion the purpose of the Olympic Games is to provide a platform to showcase sports, and their competitors, that have little or no exposure in the intervening four years between Olympiad, which makes winning medals the pinnacle of that sport. This should be the principal criteria for inclusion above any other and is why I watch the Olympics. Those sports selected should be aligned as closely as possible to amateur values and the Corinthian spirit. For this reason tennis, as mentioned above, and indeed golf due to the four Majors, should not be in the Olympics. If golf wants to be included the field should be exclusively amateurs like boxing. Indeed there are already strong amateur championships and team competitions.

On the other hand I applaud the introduction of rugby sevens. Winning a gold medal would be the pinnacle for those that play, as they are not often professionals in the 15-a-side format of the game. Also it is a fun game to watch, with a large potential for growth around the world, especially outside the established territories of the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. For similar reasons I advocate the introduction of Futsal to the Olympics to replace 11-a-side football. Futsal is the only format of small sided football that is recognised and supported by FIFA. The name 'Futsal' simply combines the Spanish words for 'Hall' – Sala and 'Football' – Futbol into Futsal. It is a five-a-side game, played with hockey sized goals and a smaller ball with a reduced bounce to encourage skillful passing play.

Finally, at a recent event I attended 4 times Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson was asked his view and said he does not think football, tennis or golf should be in the Games. All I can say is, if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me.

  1. https://www.olympic.org/olympic-charter/documents-reports-studies-publications   
  2. https://www.fia.com/en-GB/mediacentre/pressreleases/FIA/2012/Pages/fia-ioc.aspx
  3. https://www.olympic.org/sports
  4. https://www.olympic.org/ioc-commissions/documents-reports-studies-publications
  5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/news/6281166/Rugby-sevens-and-golf-ratified-for-2016-Olympics-in-Rio-de-Janeiro.html
  6. https://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/footballdevelopment/technicalsupport/futsal/index.html

About the Author

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin is a advisor and member of the editorial board for LawInSport, having previously acted as editor. In his day-to-day work he has two roles: as the Principal for his own consultancy business Captivate Legal & Sports Solutions, and Special Counsel for Sports Integrity at leading global sports technology and data company Genius Sports.

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