How Are Sports Chosen For The Olympics?

How Are Sports Chosen For The Olympics?

Selecting sports for the Olympics is a multifaceted process that blends tradition, popularity, and adaptability. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is responsible for this selection, a task that ensures the Games remain a global showcase of athleticism and diversity. This comprehensive note will delve deeply into the intricate process of how sports are chosen for the Olympics, covering the history, criteria, and implications of these decisions

Historical Context:

The Olympic Games, with their roots in ancient Greece, featured a limited number of sports like running, jumping, and discus throwing. However, when the modern Olympics were revived in the late 19th century, the range of sports expanded. The first modern Olympics in 1896 included nine sports: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling.

Over time, the Olympics evolved, with new sports being added to the program and others being removed. This evolution reflects the changing interests of society and the IOC’s efforts to keep the Games relevant to contemporary audiences. Today, the Olympic program is a carefully curated collection of sports that aims to balance tradition and innovation.

The Role of the International Federations:

One of the key players in the process of selecting Olympic sports is the International Federations (IFs). IFs are international governing bodies for specific sports, responsible for overseeing and promoting those sports worldwide. Each Olympic sport is associated with an IF, and these organizations play a crucial role in the inclusion and development of sports in the Olympic program.

The Process of Choosing Sports for the Olympics:

The process of choosing sports for the Olympics involves several steps, which can be summarized as follows:

1. Application Phase:

Sports interested in being part of the Olympics must submit their applications. However, these applications are typically made through the relevant International Federations (IFs). These IFs are responsible for governing specific sports and overseeing their development on a global scale.

2. Evaluation of Sports:

The IOC’s Program Commission takes charge of evaluating the sports that have applied. The Commission assesses these sports against various criteria to determine their suitability for inclusion. The key criteria include:

  • Popularity: The sport should have a substantial following and participation on an international scale.
  • Worldwide Appeal: It should be a sport that has global interest and is not limited to specific regions.
  • Gender Balance: The Olympics strive for gender equity, so sports with both male and female participation are favored.
  • Adherence to Olympic Values: The sport should align with the core values of the Olympic Movement, which include excellence, friendship, respect, and fair play.

3. Recommendation Phase:

Based on the evaluation, the Program Commission makes recommendations regarding which sports should be included, excluded, or retained in the Olympic program. These recommendations are not binding but carry significant weight in the decision-making process.

4. IOC Executive Board Review:

The recommendations from the Program Commission are then reviewed by the IOC Executive Board. This board consists of senior IOC members who oversee the day-to-day operations and decision-making of the IOC.

5. Approval by the IOC Session:

The ultimate decision on adding or removing sports from the Olympic program is made by the IOC Session. The IOC Session is the highest decision-making body of the IOC and consists of IOC members from around the world.

6. Voting Process:

During an IOC Session meeting, members vote on the proposed changes to the Olympic program. A majority vote is typically required to either include or exclude a sport. This voting process ensures that decisions are made collectively and represent a consensus among IOC members.

7. Implementation:

If a sport is approved, it is included in the Olympic program for a specified number of Games. This can provide long-term stability and support for the development of that sport. However, it is also subject to periodic reviews to ensure it continues to meet the criteria.

8. Future Opportunities:

If a sport is removed from the Olympic program, it may still have opportunities to reapply in the future. This allows sports that may have lost their Olympic status to work on improving their global appeal and relevance.

Criteria for Olympic Sports:

Let’s delve deeper into the criteria used to evaluate sports for the Olympics:

1. Popularity and Participation:

One of the foremost criteria is the sport’s popularity and global participation. The IOC seeks sports that have a significant following worldwide. This ensures that the Olympic Games resonate with a broad and diverse audience.

2. Worldwide Appeal:

The sport should have worldwide appeal. It should be played and followed by people from various countries and cultures. This helps in making the Olympics a truly international event.

3. Gender Equity:

The IOC places a strong emphasis on gender equity. Sports that have both male and female competitions are preferred. This commitment to gender balance aligns with the Olympic values of equality and fairness.

4. Adherence to Olympic Values:

Sports that embody the Olympic values of excellence, friendship, respect, and fair play are favored. The IOC wants sports that not only showcase athletic prowess but also promote these values.

5. Organizational and Logistical Considerations:

The feasibility of including a sport in the Olympic program is also considered. This includes factors like the availability of suitable venues, the capacity to accommodate athletes and spectators, and the logistical requirements for hosting competitions.

Implications of Choosing or Removing Sports:

The decision to include or exclude a sport from the Olympic program has significant implications for various stakeholders:

Implications of Choosing or Removing Sports:

1. Athletes:

Inclusion in the Olympic program provides athletes with the pinnacle of their sport. It offers a platform to showcase their skills on the world stage, and winning an Olympic medal is a dream for many athletes.

2. Sport Development:

Olympic inclusion can boost the development of a sport by increasing its popularity and funding. Conversely, the removal of a sport can have a detrimental impact on its growth and support.

3. Host Cities:

Host cities must prepare venues and infrastructure for the sports included in the program. The choice of sports affects the logistical planning and budgeting for the Olympic Games.

4. Broadcasters and Sponsors:

The sports included in the Olympics influence broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals. Popular sports can attract larger audiences and more investment.

5. Global Sports Landscape:

The inclusion of a sport in the Olympics elevates its status in the global sports landscape. Conversely, removal can have the opposite effect.

Recent Examples of Sports Selection:

In recent years, there have been notable changes to the Olympic program:

  • Tokyo 2020/2021 Olympics: The Tokyo Games featured five new sports: skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing, karate, and baseball/softball. These additions aimed to attract younger audiences and align with trends in action sports.
  • 2024 Paris Olympics: Breakdancing, officially known as “breaking,” will make its Olympic debut in Paris. This addition reflects a desire to embrace urban culture and engage with younger generations.
  • 2028 Los Angeles Olympics: The 2028 Olympics will feature additional sports such as skateboarding and surfing, continuing the trend of including sports with youthful appeal.


The process of choosing sports for the Olympics is a dynamic and evolving one. It balances tradition and innovation, aiming to represent the interests.

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