The sport of pickleball has been steadily gaining popularity in the United States over the past few years. This fast-paced, fun game has become a favorite among people of all ages, so much so that many are unsure if pickleball is in the Olympics or not.
Pickleball is not currently an Olympic sport. Although considered the fastest growing sport, it's yet to take its place on the Olympic podium. But thanks to this same popularity surging in the US and bubbling globally, many players are hopeful it will get added by 2030.
For one reason or another, there's a lot of misinformation out there about what it takes to get pickleball added to the Olympics lineup - some will tell you that you need 75 men and 40 women from different countries to be admitted, but that's not the case.
First things first, when you talk about the Olympics, you can't help but drop a thousand acronyms along the way. There are 4 in particular that you'll need to know.
- IOC: International Olympic Committee is the highest governing body of the Olympic Games and they're responsible for recognizing sports that can be included in the Olympics.
- IF: International Federation is an organization (International Federation of Pickleball) that governs a specific sport, establishes uniform rules for international competitions and serves as the official contact point between member nations to promote their sport at an international level.
- NOC: National Olympic Committee is a national governing body responsible for the development of athletes and the promotion of their sport within that nation, such as USA Pickleball.
- OGOC: Organizing Committees for the Olympic Games are responsible for managing the organization of their country's participation in the Olympic Games. For instance, the Olympics in 2024 is in France, so the OGOC would be led by a French representative.
So, with that out of the way, let's put the pieces together on what these acronyms have to do with pickleball, and what it's going to take for pickleball to become an official Olympic sport.
What Does it Take for a Sport to Get Added to the Olympics?
For a sport to be added to the Olympics, it must first be recognized by the IOC. After that, it can become part of the Olympic Games in two ways. This is either through conventional voting during the annual IOC Session or proposed by the host country's Organizing Committee for their specific Games.
Allowing a host country to propose events for their edition of the Games is a newer method that started in 2014. The first time it came to life resulted in 5 events being added to the Tokyo 2020 games, including baseball, surfing, karate, sport climbing, and skateboarding. This can also lead to some interesting sports being added, such as breakdancing being pushed by France for its Paris 2024 Games.
But there are more details to it than just a host country pushing through an event they want to be added to the Games. Both methods start with the same requirement.
1. Every Olympic Sport Must Be Recognized by the IOC First
To be accepted as an Olympic sport, that specific sport needs to have a recognized governing body. This means the IF must abide by the standards outlined in the Olympic Charter, World Anti-Doping Code, and the Olympic Movement Code.
Breaking this down a bit further, a sport would need to first have a governing body, and second, that governing body would need to abide by 3 criteria to be recognized.
It's also important to note that an International Federation is comprised of NOCs, which are National Olympic Committees. These are governing bodies at the national level, such as USA Pickleball or the German Pickleball Association. The IFP has a large number of member countries already, at the time of writing, it included 65 full member countries.
What Does the Olympic Charter Require to Be a Recognized Governing Body?
The Olympic Charter is the set of rules that governs the Olympic Movement and defines the responsibilities of its governing bodies.
To be recognized by the IOC, they must commit to the Olympic Charter and demonstrate good governance, anti-doping regulations, fairness of play and good ethics, technical regulations, and development initiatives in multiple countries and continents. This last point is to prove it's an international sport.
How Does An International Sports Federation Apply to the IOC?
The IF would have to fill out a ridiculously long questionnaire and submit it to the IOC. This questionnaire covers areas such as the objectives of the sport, its history, integrity of play, international presence, anti-doping regulations, development initiatives in multiple countries on at least four continents, rules and regulations of the sport, and more.
Once all criteria are met then a presentation can be made to the IOC and they can decide whether or not to recognize it. Once a sport is recognized, then the process of adding it to the Olympics could begin, but at a minimum, it would become a recognized event if approved.
Does Pickleball Have An International Federation?
Pickleball has an IF, the International Pickleball Federation, which is focused on many areas of growing the sport, including participation in the Olympic Games. While it's not yet recognized by the IOC, the wide participation of many countries across multiple continents is helpful to its cause.
2. Conventional Method of Getting a Sport Added to the Olympics Program
The original and most common way that a sport could be added to the Olympics is by an IF campaigning the IOC board and members to add the sport to the next Games during the annual IOC sessions. Typically, sports need to be added 7 or more years in advance.
The IOC executive board is in charge of proposing sports to include, and the members then vote.
When Would Pickleball Be in The Olympics?
If the International Federation of Pickleball was recognized in 2023, pickleball could be part of the Olympics no sooner than 2030. This is because there is typically a 7 year gap for planning purposes. This would apply to both conventional and Organizing Committee methods of inclusion.
3. Newer Method of Getting a Sport Added to the Olympics Program
The newest way to get a sport added to the Olympics is through the host country of the upcoming Games proposing some events rather than the IOC. Just because a host country proposes an event though doesn't mean it has to be approved.
Also, the proposed events must still have IOC-recognized International Federations. While some say the host country can just add sports as they like, the IOC is clear that the OCOG must pick events from recognized governing bodies.
This is the biggest reason that the hurdle for pickleball is to first get the International Federation of Pickleball recognized by the IOC. After that, pickleball could be added by a host country or by conventional means.
If a host country had local popularity for the sport, or the appropriate indoor and outdoor facilities to support the sport, this would help its case. Since a pickleball court is essentially a badminton court or can be created rather easily by converting a tennis court, this plays into the hands of getting pickleball added through this method versus lobbying the IOC.
Why Isn't Pickleball in the Olympics?
Even though pickleball is incredibly popular in North America and quickly growing internationally as well, its International Federation needs to meet the criteria set forth by the IOC to become a recognized body. Without that, it cannot become an Olympic sport.
And even then, there still needs to be wider circulation and popularity internationally. Since the requirements also extend far beyond how many people play pickleball across the globe, the International Federation of Pickleball will have to continue working on these non-competitive criteria, such as safety protocol.
But there's been tremendous effort and progress made by the IFP, which puts great hope in soon reaching Olympic status.
2030 Could Be the Year of Pickleball
Pickleball may not yet be an official part of any upcoming Olympic Games but that doesn't mean that we won't see it at some point down the line, and 2030 seems like a realistic option. With an amazing governing body in the IFP and the sport's increasing popularity worldwide, it's just a matter of time.
There's precedence here as well since table tennis is an Olympic sport. Surely pickleball would pass the test. And there is a wide spread of Olympic sports that are recognized that might surprise you - in 1900, live pigeon shooting was even an event.
That's all to say that pickleball joining the ranks of the Olympics is by no means a far-fetched dream. So, here's hoping that shortly we'll be watching the best players compete in the world's most addictive sport.