The number of Olympic Games sports has grown from nine at the first Olympic Games in 1896, to 33 contested at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, with more sports always keen to get onto this exclusive list. See the changes in the sports program over time.
Sports come in and out of vogue around the world over time, and in order to continue to be relevant to the world of sport, the Olympic Games needs to adapt with these changes.
There are always sports on the fringe of being selected into the Games, and those that only stay in due to being a traditional part of the Games. In recent years, baseball and softball were dropped from the program (and back in for 2020), while golf and rugby union returned to the program in 2016. Of course there is a limit to the number of sports and therefore athletes that can be included, and there are specific rules in place for including new sports.
Under the rules of the Olympic Charter, the IOC Executive Board are able to add new disciplines to existing sports without needing the approval of the full membership. Although many sports were looking at adding extra events to their program, in mid 2013 the Executive Board decided not to include any more events on the program for 2016. Sports which had applied to add new disciplines for Rio 2016 included basketball (3x3 event), cycling (a points race, BMX freestyle and mountain bike eliminator events), triathlon (mixed relay); and judo (team event).
For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, baseball and softball, karate, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing were added. Some sports will be looking to add new sports events under an existing sport. The International Basketball Federation included 3x3 basketball with the basketball program.
2020 Sports and Beyond
New rules brought in by the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Agenda 2020 reform process allow each Organizing Committee "to make a proposal for the inclusion of one or more additional events on the program for that edition of the Olympic Games", with the final decision resting with the IOC.
After the 2008 Olympics the sports of Baseball and Softball were dropped from the program. In August 2009 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted on the two sports to be added to the program for Rio 2016. There was a list of seven sports that they chose from: golf, rugby union, roller sports, karate, softball, baseball and squash. They selected golf and rugby union.
In February 2013 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executives met to discuss the make-up of the Summer Games from 2020. At that time, wrestling was the sport cut from the list, even though modern pentathlon was reported to be most in danger.
There followed a selection process for sports bidding for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games. Wrestling was brought back into the battle to appear in Tokyo in 2020, along with baseball and softball (joint bid), climbing, karate, roller sport, squash, wakeboard and wushu. It is also interesting to note a few other sports that were considered. Apparently 12 sports were initially considered and only the eight sports mentioned above were retained. Surfing, dancing, bowling and netball missed out. There are also murmurings that parkour is on the cards for inclusion in the near future.
In May 2013 the IOC cut karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu from this list, leaving baseball-softball, squash and wrestling on the shortlist for inclusion on the 2020 Olympic program. The announcement of which of these three sports was selected at the 125th IOC Session in September 2013 in Buenos Aires, Argentina - the winner was wrestling. So ultimately no 'new' sport was added.
In June 2015, twenty-six International Olympic Committee (IOC)-recognized Federations proposed events to be considered for inclusion at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: 'baseball and softball', karate, squash, bowling, snooker, sport climbing, surfing, wushu, roller sports, air sports, American football, bowls, bridge, chess, dancesport, floorball, flying disc, korfball, netball, orienteering, polo, racquetball, sumo, tug of war, underwater sports and water skiing. Only seven IOC-recognized sports did not apply: climbing and mountaineering, motorcycling, motor racing, cricket, basque pelota, lifesaving and powerboating. On June 22, this list was reduced to a shortlist of eight sports: baseball and softball, bowling, karate, roller skating, sport climbing, squash, surfing and wushu.
On September 28 2015, the shortlist was reduced to five sports - baseball and softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing and surfing (leaving out bowling, squash and wushu). On 2016, it was confirmed that these five sports would be added to the 2020 Olympics.
2024 Paris Sports
In December 2020, it was annouced that breakdancing, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing were approved for inclusion as additional sports on the program for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. See all the 2024 sports.
2028 LA Sports
In July 2022, nine sports invited by Los Angeles 2028 to present their case for inclusion at the Olympics. The sports were motorsport (probably karting), cricket, karate, baseball-softball, lacrosse, breaking, kickboxing, squash and flag football. Other sports have also shown interest in obtaining a place at the 2028 Olympics, such as sambo, flying disc and teqball, though they were not on the list.
Ultimately, five sports were proposed by the LA28 Organising Committee for inclusion, and approved by the IOC in October 2023. They are baseball-softball, cricket, flag football, lacrosse and squash. See all the 2028 sports.
We have several polls related to sports on the Olympic Games program:
- Which of these sports should be next included in the Games?
- Should baseball and softball be included back into the Olympic program?
- Should Race Walking be dropped from the Olympics?
- Which summer Olympics sport should be dropped?
- Should Golf be a sport at the Olympics?
- Should Rugby be a sport at the Olympics?
2012 Bleacher Report
In 2012, the website Bleacher Report listed 10 sports they considered should be included in future Summer Olympics, including beach and indoor soccer. See the full list.
- Possible future sports: esports, wushu
- About the number of sports at each Olympiad, and also the changes over time.
- How sports are selected for the Olympics
- POLL: Which of these sports should be next included in the Games? plus other Olympic Games Polls