SINGAPORE — From nine sports being contested at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, to a whopping 33 to be contested at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, the world's biggest sporting extravaganza has steadily grown its programme to accommodate a wider range of sports being played globally.
Yet, there are still many sports that have never been featured in any of the 32 editions of the Summer Olympics, for a variety of reasons.
To be included into the Olympic programme, a sport must be determined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to be widely played around the world. It should not only reflect the traditions of the Olympic Games, but also add to its “value and appeal”.
Excluded from the programme are purely ‘‘mind sports’’ and sports dependent on mechanical propulsion. This makes chess and motor racing ineligible.
With those criteria in mind, here are six popular sports that have not been included in the Olympic programme:
So close, yet so far. Squash has been considered for inclusion into the Olympics for the 2016, 2020 and 2024 editions, but it was edged out by other sports in all three occasions.
There are many reasons being bandied around as to why it could not make the cut. Among them are that the squash courts were expensive to set up; that the rules were difficult to understand; and that the poor marketability of the sport was unappealing to the IOC.
For a sport that is played in over 185 countries by around 20 million people, it has been a frustrating experience so far in squash's push for Olympic inclusion.
Bowling has actually made appearances at the 1988 and 1996 Olympics, but not as part of the official sporting programmes. It was invited as a demonstration sport to showcase itself to the world and be considered for inclusion in future Games, but so far the IOC has not been convinced.
While it is a popular sport in developed countries, one major drawback is that it lacks inexpensive or easy access for youth in the underdeveloped world to acquire the skills and proficiencies.
With the IOC looking for sports with youth appeal nowadays, bowling's low appeal to the younger demographic has also seen it lose out to sports like surfing and skateboarding. It is continuing to try for inclusion in upcoming Games.
Mixed martial arts
While mixed martial arts (MMA) is an immensely popular sport among young adults, and it also translates well into television, there are many factors that work against its inclusion in the Olympics.
For one, it is still viewed as a violent and dangerous sport, especially by an organisation that requires its boxers and martial arts athletes to wear protective headgear and other safety equipment. MMA, with its frequent bloody bouts, is seen as being against the IOC's values.
Another crucial factor against MMA is that there has yet to be a standardised scoring system for its successful strikes. Martial arts that are in the Olympic programme such as taekwondo and karate have specific points awarded to their competitors for making a successful kick or punch, so that there are clear paths in determining the outcome of the competition.
MMA needs to address these two major issues to even begin thinking about being included in the Olympics.
The issues regarding netball's inclusion into the Olympics are twofold: one, it is generally played only among the Commonwealth countries such as Britain, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Two, it is perceived as a female-only sport. While there are two female-only sports in the Olympic programme – synchronised swimming and rhythmic gymnastics – the IOC is increasingly seeking equal participation between men and women, especially among sports seeking entry into its programme.
As such, rugby sevens and golf – which offer mixed team events – got the nod ahead of netball to be included in the Olympics.
With the Olympic programme now at a massive 33 sports, the IOC is reluctant to add more sports unless it drops some of the existing ones. As such, there is fierce competition among several sports as they seek to convince the IOC of their credentials.
Roller sports is one of them, and has been vying for a spot in the Olympic programme since around 2000. Yet it has always been edged out by other sports with better global reach.
With many inline and roller skaters switching to the ice-skating sports in the Winter Olympics, it is an uphill climb for the sport to be included.
Invented in Sweden in the late 1960s, floorball is still relatively new as a global sport. While it has become popular in Europe and even in countries like Singapore, it has yet to make significant inroads into the large North American market.
With the sport still developing its global framework of leagues, top players and youth development, perhaps it may become a sport with wide appeal in the future and be considered for inclusion into the Olympic programme. As of now, floorball is still generally a grassroots-run movement rather than a sport supported by large organisations and corporations.
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