Authors: Dr. Ray Stefani*(1)

(1) Dr. Ray Stefani is a Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach

*Corresponding Author:
Dr. Ray Stefani
25032 Via Del Rio
Lake Forest, CA, 92630

This paper explores possible future Olympic sports by examining the past. The ancient Olympic Games began in 776 BC with just one running event. Over the centuries, five more Track and Field (Athletics) events were added as well as four other sports with 22 events. These new sports kept the Olympics relevant to the times and interesting enough that the Games survived until 277 AD, At least two emperors competed and became Olympic champions. During the modern Olympic Games though 1992, organizers provided flair by adding non-medal demonstration sports, albeit in a rather haphazard manner, some of which became permanent sports. As the number of events rose to fill the available time period of both the Summer and Winter Olympics, a rather rigid system was used to limit the number of sports. That system had less-than-ideal success in adding new sports, which had to be at the expense of deleting older sports. The International Olympic Committee recently enacted Olympic Agenda 2020, which includes a much more flexible system for adding new sports. Under control of the International Olympic Committee Executive Board, an organizing Committee may request to add medal sports for that Games and that same IOC Committee can add new sports permanently, by modifying the number of events, without necessarily dropping existing sports. This paper examines the recent request by the 2020 Tokyo Organizing Committee as well the complete list of recognized sports from which new sports must be drawn, to gauge the possible types of future Olympic sports.

Keywords: Olympics, Ancient Olympics, recreational sports, future Olympic sports, official Olympic sports, recognized Olympic sports

This paper explores the possible future for new Olympic sports by examining the past. The Ancient Olympic Games began in 776 BC with just one running event, the stadion, giving us the word “stadium”, contested over one length of 600 Greek feet (192 m). The Perseus Project at Tufts University provides a list of the winners of the Ancient Olympics (8). We have sorted that list to obtain the following analysis. The first 13 Olympiads featured just the stadion. Four more running events and the pentathlon (combing Track and Field) were eventually added to form the sport of Track and Field (Athletics). Over time, four more types of competition with 22 events were added to the program: Artistic Performance (four events), Chariot Racing (nine events), Combat Sports like wrestling (six events) and Equestrian Riding (three events). The historical record contains a reliable recording of 833 contested events, distributed as follows.

Track and Field (Athletics) 49%
Combat Sports 32%
Chariot Racing 11%
Equestrian Riding 4%
Artistic Performance 4%

The Carl Lewis of the Ancient Olympics was Leonides of Rhodes, who became the all-time leading winner of 12 events, by winning each of the stadion (one length), the diaulos (two lengths) and the diaulos in armor over four consecutive Games starting in 164 BC. Each Olympic winner received a laurel wreath called a ∑τεφανι, the Greek equivalent of my family name, Stefani.
The added sports kept the Games relevant to the interests of the populace. Spectator interest and thus the importance of the Games was such that the father of Alexander the Great, King Philip II of Macedon, competed and won three events: a horse race in 356 BC, a four-horse chariot race in 352 BC and a two-horse chariot race in 348 BC.

Today’s organizing committees schedule events to satisfy the TV audience, the media and the attending fans. The organizers in 65 BC sought to satisfy the emperor, Nero. They created five events held only that one time: a lyre playing competition, a tragedy performing competition, and three special chariot races. The organizers also resurrected herald competition (shouting with understandability) that had been dormant for 420 years. Nero responded by supporting the Olympics financially and winning the six hand-tailored events. Only three athletes, Leonides among them, won more events than Nero in the Ancient Olympics.

We have only mentioned competition for men. Because the Olympic Games were dedicated to Zeus, a male god, only men could compete; however, unmarried women attended (1). Married women were not to attend but one married woman, Kyniska of Sparta, trained the winning horses in the four-horse chariot race, making her a double champion in 396 BC and 392 BC. She had to receive her laurel wreaths outside the stadium. A second set of Games, contested at Olympia, were dedicated to the mythological wife of Zeus, Hera (1). Unmarried women competed in a number of running events in three age groups. The stadium length was shortened from 600 feet to 500 feet, indicating that women were considered to be roughly 5/6 or 83% as fast as men. It is interesting that when Olympic Track and Field resumed for women in 1928, the female Olympic champions ran 83% as fast as their male counterparts (7). They now run 90% as fast (7). Ancient Greek authorities recognized the importance of athletic competition for women by empowering the permanent Council of 16 (women) to administer those sports. For the Games of today, the Olympic torch is lit at the shrine of Hera, representing a continuity of the importance of women in sport.

This study of the Ancient Olympic Games supports the hypothesis that sports were added that were relevant to the time. The various sports mentioned thus far appear symbolically on urns, indicating their importance. We see artifacts of those sports at the British Museum and others through the world. Further, efforts were made in Ancient Greece to include women in the milieu. Similarly, in our time, the IOC has resided over an equalization of female and male competitors at the modern Olympics.

What can we make of recent efforts to add sports to the Olympics? What new sports we might look for in the near future? In the next section, we discuss data to be gathered to answer those questions.

A history of the procedures used to add or drop sports and events is presented so as to place those activities into perspective. In particular, the latest procedures, Olympic Agenda 2020 (3), will be shown to be much more flexible than those of the past and thus new sports may be added much more easily than before.

A list of non-medal demonstration sports was downloaded via (4). A list of sports added and dropped by IOC action was downloaded via (5). Those lists give some guidance as to the types of sports deemed worthy of addition to the games.

The sports currently in the Olympic Summer and Winter Games, organized by sport category, were gathered from (6). A list of those sports currently recognized by the IOC and thus eligible for addition to the Games was gathered from (6), to be compared with those sports currently on the program. A recent request by the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee (2) provides a suggestion as to how future Organizing Committees will act under the new Olympic Agenda 2020.

Given the above information, it was possible to compare and contrast those sports that seem likely to be added versus those already on the program.

History of the Procedures for Adding and Dropping Olympic Sports
It is important to translate International Olympic Committee (IOC) terminology into vernacular terminology. The IOC refers to Aquatics as a sport, which in turn, has four disciplines: Swimming, Diving, Water Polo and Synchronized Swimming. Most people would say that the International Federation of Aquatics organizes competition in four sports: Swimming, Diving, Water Polo and Synchronized Swimming. In the rest of this paper, we will use the better-known terms International Federations (IFs) and sports, That is, when the IOC says there are now 28 Summer Olympic sports with 39 disciplines, we know there are actually 28 IFs organizing 39 sports.

Prior to 2002, sports were added or dropped rather haphazardly, during assemblies of all the member nations of the IOC. Olympic organizers could also add demonstration sports that were popular in the host nation; but did not count in the medal standings. Table 1, drawn from (5), shows the IOC action in adding and dropping sports at the Summer Games after World War 2, starting in 1948. Shown also are the demonstration sports included by the various Organizing Committees (4), also post 1948.

The Summer Games had grown so rapidly that there was no room for demonstration sports after 1992. Beginning in 2002, a limit of 28 IFs was established for the Summer Games. An IF (and the resulting sports) could only be added if an IF was dropped. The approval was to be by 2/3 vote of the Executive Committee of the IOC, no longer requiring action of the full membership. At first, that system worked fairly well. In 2005, two IFs and their sports, Baseball and Softball, were dropped from the 2012 Olympics. The former sport was for men and the latter was for women. In 2009, two IFs and their sports, Golf and Rugby Sevens, were added as replacements, effective with the 2016 Games. A benefit to women was the presence of both male and female competition in both sports. Unfortunately, in February 2013, in an effort to add a sport, the IOC decided to drop an original Ancient Olympic sport, Wresting. After a huge outcry of disapproval, in August 2013, the IOC voted to reinstate Wrestling for both 2020 and 2024. Thus, no sports were added or dropped. The consensus was that the adding-dropping system was in need of a change.

The IOC passed Olympic Agenda 2020 in August, 2014 (3). There was no longer a limit of IFs, but instead, a limit of events and athletes (310 events and 10,500 athletes for the Summer Games). An Organizing Committee could ask for a reasonable waiver from those limits to add new sports. Those new events (if approved) would count in the medal standings. Sports could also be added or dropped as official sports by modifying the number of events by majority vote of the IOC executive committee, not by a 2/3 vote.

List of Added Sports, Dropped Sports and Demonstration Sports
In Table 1, 13 different sports were added, five were dropped and 15 different demonstration sports were contested. Judo was added, dropped and then added again. Five of those demonstration sports eventually became official sports: Badminton, Baseball, Handball, Taekwondo and Tennis. Baseball was contested as a demonstration sport four times before being added and then dropped as an official sport. Judo for men was added, dropped and then added again. Judo for women was a demonstration sport before joining Judo for men that was already on the program.


We can now examine recreational context. Of the 15 demonstration sports, five (33%) were recreational also: Badminton, Bowling, Roller Hockey (via roller skating), Tennis and Water Skiing. Of the 14 sports that were added, 6 (43%) were also recreational: Archery, Badminton, Golf, Tennis, Softball and Volleyball.

Waiver Requested by the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee
Pursuant to Olympic Agenda 2020, the 2020 Tokyo Organizing Committee (2) requested a waiver on 28 September, 2015, beyond the currently-standard 310 events and 10,500 athletes for a Summer Olympics. Those organizers want to add 18 events and 475 athletes by including Baseball and Softball (now organized by one IF), which had been removed from the Olympics in 2005, Karate and three sports that are also recreational: Skateboarding, Sport Climbing and Surfing. That is, 50% of the sports to be added are also recreational sports. Is that the wave of the future? We will analyze all the currently official Olympic sports and also the non-Olympic sports that the IOC has recognized: a reservoir of possible future official Olympic partners or of one-off additions requested by an Organizing Committee and approved by the IOC. In fact, there is a paradigm shift towards sports with many recreational practitioners.

The Distribution of IOC Official and Recognized Sports
According to Table 2, drawn from (6), the Summer Olympics in Rio will include the efforts of 28 official International Federations which will organize competition in the 39 official sports. South Korea will host the 2018 Winter Olympics featuring the efforts of seven official IFs which will organize the 15 official sports. For an easy-to-read diagram of the 35 official IFs linked to the 54 official sports, navigate to the website and place the cursor on the button “Sports”. IFs are in bold type and, where an IF organizes more than one sport, those sports are at the end of branches emanating from the IFs. By clicking on any sport, information about that sport and about past medal winners is available.


The IOC also recognizes another 35 IFs organizing 63 sports that are not currently on the Olympic program. Those 35 IFs can be found by navigating to A page of information about each IF and its sports is available using the “Members” button.


In Table 3, drawn from (6), we separate sports into four mutually exclusive categories, the first three of which depend on the three ways that competitors can interact physically. First, there is direct contact in a Combat Sport, such as Boxing and Wrestling. Second, there is to be no contact or at least inconsequential contact in an Independent Sport such as Athletics, Swimming and Gymnastics. Third, in an Object Sport, the contact is indirect as the competitors attempt to control an object as in Basketball, Football and Tennis. Notice that there are half as many recognized Combat Sports as in the Olympics while there are more than twice as many recognized Object Sports as in the Olympics. There appears to be a conscious effort by the IOC to encourage the addition of more Object Sports to the Olympic program. The number of sports with significant recreational activity will be taken up shortly.

A novel terminology had to be created for the fourth type of competition, Mind Sports. Mental prowess, not physical prowess, is the primary distinguishing factor. In Table 4, Bridge and Chess are the two recognized Mind Sports. Of course, to compete at the highest level of Bridge and Chess, having a sound mind in a sound body is well advised. Further, clever strategy and mental planning is required in many if not all physical sports. However, a surrogate could manipulate the cards in Bridge and move a Chess piece under the direction of the competitor, in contrast to a physical sport in which a competitor must perform each task.

There is already an “Olympics” for Mind Sports. The Third World Mind Sports Games will be held after the 2016 Rio Olympics as was the case after the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. In addition to Bridge and Chess, Draughts (Checkers), Go and Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) are contested. The World Mind Sport Games are analogous to the Artistic Performances seen in the Ancient Olympics, in that competition is respected and honored in competitive activities not usually associated with sports. Some 4% of the Ancient Olympic contested events were in the Artistic Performance category. The World Mind Sport Games involve about 30 medal events, 10% as many as the 300 medal events in the Summer Games.

Some Eclectic Recognized Sports
Table 4 contains the 63 IOC Recognized sports divided into the four categories from Table 3. If Sumo Wrestling is added, the organizers might need to reinforce the medal podium. The name “Wushu” has an interesting sound to it. That sport is better known as Kung Fu.

Three sports might not be spectator favorites, as only bubbles would be visible from poolside. Apnea means “no air”, that is, “no breathing”. Dynamic Apnea involves swimming horizontally as far as possible on one breath. The world record for men is 288-meters. In Underwater Hockey (without skates) the swimmer flicks a lead puck along the pool bottom using a small stick. In Underwater Rugby, the purpose is to force a ball full of water into a basket at the bottom of the pool.

Imagine Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen all entering the final turn, jostling for position, in an effort to win the three medals in Formula 1 racing. The International Federation of American Football (IFAF) has recently been recognized by the IOC, although the five IFAF World Championships of American Football have largely gone unnoticed in the USA. Pelota Vasca is better known as Jai Alai. Petanque is a sort of bowls, or outdoor bowling, with an object as the target.


Recognized Sports Which Are Also Recreational
The first six listed Independent Sports involve aeronautics, all of which are also recreational. We would see balloons, hang gliders, sky divers and ultra-light aircraft circling overhead. Three of the eight recently-added motor racing sports, which follow the six listed aeronautical sports among the Independent Sports, stem from popular leisure activities: motorcycling, power boating and driving a go-kart.

There are four roller skating sports and five recently-added Frisbee (flying disk) sports. Three sports evolve from recreational climbing. The four billiards and pool sports can be practiced in the neighborhood pub. There are four outdoor bowls sports and two popular court sports, Racquetball and Squash. Bowling, Dance Sport and Softball may all be enjoyed on a busy weekend. A trip to the beach will provide a look at Surfing and Water Skiing. Including Chess and Bridge, 38 of the 63 recognized sports (60%) are also popular recreational activities favored by young sports fans. That percentage changes very little if we eliminate the 14 mechanically-powered sports that are highly unlikely to be included in the Olympics and eliminate Bridge and Chess which already have an international competition; that is, 27 of the remaining 47 sports (57%) fit the recreational mold.

After the Summer Olympic resumed in 1948, post World War 2, 33% of demonstration sports and 43% of added sports also had recreational adherents. With the passage of Olympic Agenda 2020, there are no longer International Federation limits. There are only event and athlete limits. A simple majority of the IOC Executive Committee can now authorize an Organizing Committee to add new one-off medal sports or to go a step farther and add official sports to future Olympics. Added sports must be selected from the list of the 63 currently-recognized sports, 60% of which evolved from popular recreational activities. The 14 powered sports are unlikely to be included in future Games. The two mind sports are already included in the World Mind Sport Games. There remain 47 viable sports that are 57% recreational. Thus, the reservoir of viable future sports is much more recreational in nature than added sports of the past.

If the IOC agrees, the 2024 Tokyo Olympic will add some or all of Baseball and Softball, Karate, Skateboarding, Sport Climbing and Surfing. Future Organizing Committees have the opportunity to add a similar number of sports. If Los Angeles is awarded the 2024 Games, their petition might include popular American sports such as Baseball and Softball, American Football (perhaps an eight-team tournament as was used for the Fifth IFAF World Championship held in Canton, Ohio in 2015), Life Saving, Skateboarding and Surfing.

The Olympic movement is a vigorous living entity that will continue to grow in interest and applicability. On your next outing to a neighborhood park, a pub, the mountains or the beach you might encounter a future Olympic champion in an Olympic sport –to-be.

The casual sports follower and recreational participant should understand that the span of sports that will be in future Games will be tailored to their tastes.

A young athlete can use the list of recognized sports as a guide to those sports that the IOC considers of merit. Perhaps some such athletes may embark on a career that might not otherwise have been considered. Further, Mind Sports have value too. There is international competition leading to the World Mind Sports Games in Bridge, Chess, Draughts (Checkers), Go and Xiangqi (Chinese Chess). The person interested in more intellectual competitions should realize that in the Ancient Olympics and today, such competitions are valued along with physical sports.

Female athletes should recognize efforts to bring equality over the years. In Ancient Olympia, women competed in the Heraea Games. A permanent group of 16 women were empowered to implement and foster sports for women. In today’s world, the IOC and IFs have conscientiously worked to equalize the number of sports and the number of places available for women in the current Games. Female Olympic champions in Athletics have gained from running 83% as fast as their male counterparts in 1928 to being 90% as fast today.

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