Olympic sports are sports contested in the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. The 2012 Summer Olympics included 26 sports, with two additional sports due to be added to the 2016 Summer Olympics. The 2014 Winter Olympics will include seven sports.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) establishes a hierarchy of sports, disciplines, and events. According to this hierarchy, the Olympic sports can be subdivided into multiple disciplines, which are often assumed to be distinct sports. Examples include swimming and water polo (disciplines of Aquatics, represented by the International Swimming Federation), or figure skating and speed skating (disciplines of Skating, represented by the International Skating Union). In their turn, disciplines can be subdivided into events, for which medals are actually awarded. A sport or discipline is included in the Olympic program if the IOC determines it is widely practiced around the world, that is, the number of countries that compete in a given sport is the indicator of the sport's prevalence. The IOC's requirements reflect participation in the Olympic Games as well—more stringent toward men (as they are represented in higher numbers) and Summer sports (as more nations compete in the Summer Olympics).
Previous Olympic Games included sports which are no longer present on the current program, like polo and tug of war. These sports, known as "discontinued sports", were later removed either because of lack of interest or absence of an appropriate governing body. Archery and tennis are examples of sports that were competed at the early Games and were later dropped by the IOC, but managed to return to the Olympic program (in 1972 and 1988, respectively). Demonstration sports have often been included in the Olympic Games, usually to promote a local sport from the host country or to gauge interest and support for the sport. Some such sports, like baseball and curling, were added to the official Olympic program (in 1992 and 1998, respectively). Baseball, however, was discontinued after the 2008 Summer Olympics).
Olympic sports definitions
The term "sport" in Olympic terminology refers to all the events that are sanctioned by one international sport federation, a definition that may be different from the common meaning of the word sport. One sport, by Olympic definition, may be divided into several disciplines, which are often regarded as separate sports in common language.
For example: Aquatics is a summer Olympic sport that includes five disciplines: Swimming, synchronized swimming, diving, water polo and open water swimming, since all these disciplines are governed at international level by the International Swimming Federation. Skating is a winter Olympic sport represented by the International Skating Union, and includes four disciplines: figure skating, speed skating (on a traditional long track), short track speed skating and synchronized skating (the latter is a non-Olympic discipline). The sport with the largest number of Olympic disciplines is skiing, with six: alpine skiing, cross country skiing, ski jumping, nordic combined, snowboarding and freestyle skiing.
Other notable multi-discipline sports are gymnastics (artistic, rhythmic and trampoline), cycling (road, track, mountain and BMX), volleyball (indoors and beach), wrestling (freestyle and Greco-Roman), canoeing (flatwater and slalom) and bobsleigh (includes skeleton). The disciplines listed here are only those contested in the Olympics—gymnastics and cycling each have two non-Olympic disciplines, while wrestling has five.
It should also be noted that the IOC definition of a "discipline" may differ from that used by an international federation. For example, the IOC considers artistic gymnastics a single discipline, but the International Federation of Gymnastics classifies men's and women's artistic gymnastics as separate disciplines.
On some occasions, notably in the case of snowboarding, the IOC agreed to add sports which previously had a separate international federation to the Olympics on condition that they dissolve their governing body and instead affiliate with an existing Olympic sport federation, therefore not increasing the number of Olympic sports.
An event, by IOC definition, is a competition that leads to the award of medals. Therefore, the sport of aquatics includes a total of 46 Olympic events, of which 32 are in the discipline of swimming, eight in diving, and two each in synchronized swimming, water polo, and open water swimming. The number of events per sport ranges from a minimum of two (until 2008 there were sports with only one event) to a maximum of 47 in athletics, which despite its large number of events and its diversity is not divided into disciplines.
Changes in Olympic sports
The list of Olympic sports has changed considerably during the course of Olympic history, and has gradually increased until the early 2000s, when the IOC decided to cap the number of sports in the Summer Olympics at 28.
The only summer sports that have never been absent from the Olympic program are athletics, aquatics (the discipline of swimming has been in every Olympics), cycling, fencing, and gymnastics (the discipline of artistic gymnastics has been in every Olympics).
The only winter sports that were included in all Winter Olympic Games are skiing (only nordic skiing), skating (figure skating and speed skating) and ice hockey. Figure skating and ice hockey were also included in the Summer Olympics before the Winter Olympics were introduced in 1924.
For most of the 20th century, demonstration sports were included in many Olympic Games, usually to promote a non-Olympic sport popular in the host country, or to gauge interest and support for the sport. The competitions and ceremonies in these sports were identical to official Olympic sports, except that the medals were not counted in the official record. Some demonstration sports, like baseball and curling, were later added to the official Olympic program. This changed when the International Olympic Committee decided in 1989 to eliminate demonstration sports from Olympics Games after 1992. An exception was made in 2008, when the Beijing Organizing Committee received permission to organize a wushu tournament.
A sport or discipline may be included in the Olympic program if the IOC determines that it is widely practiced around the world, that is, the number of countries and continents that regularly compete in a given sport is the indicator of the sport's prevalence. The requirements for winter sports are considerably lower than for summer sports since many fewer nations compete in winter sports. The IOC also has lower requirements for inclusion of sports and disciplines for women for the same reason. Following the addition of women's boxing in 2012, and women's ski jumping in 2014, there will be no Olympic sport for men only in those Games, although women are still barred from several disciplines (but on the other hand, there are women-only disciplines, such as rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming).
Sports that depend primarily on mechanical propulsion, such as motor sports, may not be considered for recognition as Olympic sports, though there were power-boating events in the early days of the Olympics before this rule was enacted by the IOC. Part of the story of the founding of aviation sports' international governing body, the FAI, originated from an IOC meeting in Brussels, Belgium on June 10, 1905.
These criteria are only a threshold for consideration as Olympic sport. In order to be admitted to the Olympic program, the IOC Session has to approve its inclusion. There are many sports that easily make the required numbers but are not recognized as Olympic sports, mainly because the IOC has decided to put a limit on the number of sports, as well as events and athletes, in the Summer Olympics in order not to increase them from the 28 sports, 300 events and 10,000 athletes of the 2000 Summer Olympics. No such limits exist in the Winter Olympics and the number of events and athletes continue to increase, but no sport has been added since 1998.
Previous Olympic Games included sports which are no longer present on the current program, like polo and tug of war. In the early days of the modern Olympics, the organizers were able to decide which sports or disciplines were included on the program, until the IOC took control of the program in 1924. As a result, a number of sports were on the Olympic program for relatively brief periods before 1924. These sports, known as discontinued sports, were removed because of lack of interest or absence of an appropriate governing body, or because they became fully professional at the time that the Olympic Games were strictly for amateurs, as in the case of tennis. Several discontinued sports, such as archery and tennis, were later readmitted to the Olympic program (in 1972 and 1984, respectively). Two other discontinued sports, golf and rugby, are due to return in 2016. Curling, which was an official sport in 1924 and then discontinued, was reinstated as Olympic sport in 1998.
Since 1936, the only sports that were excluded from the Olympic program are Baseball and Softball, which were both voted out by the IOC Session in Singapore on July 11, 2005, a decision that was reaffirmed on February 9, 2006. These sports were last included in 2008, although officially they remain recognized as Olympic sports in the Olympic Charter. Therefore, the number of sports in the 2012 Summer Olympics was dropped from 28 to 26.
On August 13, 2009, the IOC Executive Board proposed that golf and rugby sevens be added to the Olympic program for the 2016 Games. On 9 October 2009, during the 121st IOC Session in Copenhagen, the IOC voted to admit both sports as official Olympic sports and to include them in the 2016 Summer Olympics, The IOC voted 81–8 in favor of including rugby sevens and 63–27 in favor of reinstating golf. thus bringing the number of sports back to 28.
The Olympic Charter decrees that Olympic sports for each edition of the Olympic Games should be decided at an IOC Session no later than seven years prior to the Games.
Recognized international federations
Many sports are not recognized as Olympic sports although their governing bodies are recognized by the IOC. Such sports, if eligible under the terms of the Olympic Charter, may apply for inclusion in the program of future Games, through a recommendation by the IOC Olympic Programme Commission, followed by a decision of the IOC Executive Board and a vote of the IOC Session. When Olympic demonstration sports were allowed, a sport usually appeared as such before being officially admitted. An International Sport Federation (IF) is responsible for ensuring that the sport's activities follow the Olympic Charter. When a sport is recognized the IF become an official Olympic sport federation and can assemble with other Olympic IFs in the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (for summer sports) or Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (for winter sports). A number of recognized sports are included in the program of the World Games, a multi-sport event run by the International World Games Association, an organization that operates under the patronage of the IOC. Since the start of the World Games in 1981, a number of sports, including badminton, taekwondo and triathlon have all subsequently been incorporated into the Olympic program.
The governing bodies of following sports, though not contested in the Olympic Games, are recognized by the IOC:
1 Official sport at the World Games
2 Discontinued Olympic sport
3 Ineligible to be included because the Olympic Charter bans sports with motorization elements
4 Potential future Olympic sport (from 2020)
5To be included as part of the 2016 program
At the first Olympic Games, nine sports were contested. Since then, the number of sports contested at the Summer Olympic Games has gradually risen to twenty-eight on the program for 2000-2008. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, however, the number of sports fell back to twenty-six following an IOC decision in 2005 to remove baseball and softball from the Olympic program. These sports retain their status as Olympic sports with the possibility of a return to the Olympic program in future games. At the 121st IOC Session in Copenhagen on 9 October 2009, the IOC voted to reinstate both golf and rugby to the Olympic program, meaning that the number of sports to be contested in 2016 will once again be 28.
In order for a sport or discipline to be considered for inclusion in the list of Summer Olympics sports, it must be widely practiced in at least 75 countries, spread over four continents.
Current summer program
The following sports (or disciplines of a sport) make up the current Summer Olympic Games official program and are listed alphabetically according to the name used by the IOC. The figures in each cell indicate the number of events for each sport contested at the respective Games; a bullet (•) denotes that the sport was contested as a demonstration sport.
Seven of the 26 sports consist of multiple disciplines. Disciplines from the same sport are grouped under the same color:
Aquatics – Canoeing/Kayak – Cycling – Gymnastics – Volleyball – Equestrian – Wrestling
For equestrian and wrestling, the figures in each cell indicate the number of events for each sport, and not for each discipline separately.
Discontinued summer sports
The following sports were previously part of the Summer Olympic Games program as official sports, but are no longer on the current program. The numbers in each cell indicate the number of events for each sport that were contested at the respective Games; a bullet denotes that the sport was contested as a demonstration sport.
|Jeu de paume||•||1||•|
|Tug of war||1||1||1||1||1||1|
|Figure skating||4||3||Rescheduled during winter games|
Demonstration summer sports
The following sports or disciplines have been demonstrated at the Summer Olympic Games for the years shown, but have never been included on the official Olympic program:
Before 1924, when the first Winter Olympic Games were celebrated, sports held on ice, like figure skating and ice hockey, were held at the Summer Olympics. These two sports made their debuts at the 1908 and the 1920 Summer Olympics, respectively, but were permanently integrated in the Winter Olympics program as of the first edition. The International Winter Sports Week, later dubbed the I Olympic Winter Games and retroactively recognized as such by the IOC, consisted of nine sports. The number of sports contested at the Winter Olympics has since been decreased to seven, comprising a total of fifteen disciplines.
A sport or discipline must be widely practiced in at least 25 countries on three continents in order to be included on the Winter Olympics program.
Current winter program
The following sports (or disciplines of a sport) make up the current Winter Olympic Games official program and are listed alphabetically, according to the name used by the IOC. The figures in each cell indicate the number of events for each sport that were contested at the respective Games (the red cells indicate that those sports were held at the Summer Games); a bullet denotes that the sport was contested as a demonstration sport. On some occasions, both official medal events and demonstration events were contested in the same sport at the same Games.
Three out of the seven sports consist of multiple disciplines. Disciplines from the same sport are grouped under the same color:
|Speed skating||5||4||4 •||4||4||4||4||8||8||8||8||9||9||9||10||10||10||10||10||12||12||12|
|Short track speed skating||•||4||6||6||8||8||8||8|
|Cross country skiing||FIS||2||2||2||3||3||4||6||6||7||7||7||7||7||8||8||10||10||10||12||12||12||12|
|Freestyle skiing||•||2 •||4||4||4||4||6||10|
1 As military patrol, see below.
Demonstration winter sports
The following sports have been demonstrated at the Winter Olympic Games for the years shown, but have never been included on the official Olympic program:
Military patrol was an official skiing event in 1924 but the IOC currently considers it an event of biathlon in those games, and not as a separate sport. Ski ballet, similarly, was simply a demonstration event falling under the scope of freestyle skiing. Disabled sports are now part of the Winter Paralympic Games.
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