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Seven Niche Sports, One Common Denominator: The Quest for Recognition

18 Oct, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
From Arm Wrestling to Table Soccer, from Match Poker to Dodgeball and Kettlebell Lifting, Competitions Being Hosted Heavily in the U.S.

Seven niche sports with little in common except a quest for international recognition recently got a boost. Of course, whether they are able to gain a foothold on the Olympic level, however, has yet to be seen. But event organizers should familiarize themselves with them, as they’re going to be making some noise over the next few years.

Recently having gained Observer status (it’s one step shy of membership) by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF, formerly known as SportAccord), these sports governing bodies are working to increase their international profile.

Some of these sports may have already come to destinations around the U.S. while others may require some background knowledge. Either way, they’re organizations you’ll be hearing more from on a forward-going basis...

The World Armwrestling Federation: Armwrestling continues to make gains in recognition, with competitions for both able-bodied armwrestlers and those with disabilities. The sport is mainly contested indoors on specific equipment. In the U.S., one of the next big competitions will be the Ultimate Armwrestling League's event at Cal State. In April, the Dave Chaffee Arms Classic was hosted by Erie Sports Commission.

The World Dodgeball Association: The organization is preparing to hold its World Cup in Madison Square Garden in New York City. There are four 2017 Continental World Cup Qualifying Competitions to determine the top 10 qualifying nations for each of the three respective men’s, women’s and mixed competition categories. Stateside, the organization has a National Dodgeball League with 18 pro teams (seven pro and 11 expansion) that play coast to coast, in all markets. It also promotes an Amateur Dodgeball League and has NDL.tv to allow for live-streaming of games. Upcoming pro matches and try-outs will be held in Oregon, Indiana and Missouri. Columbia, South Carolina, Spooky Nook in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Placer Valley, California, have all hosted dodgeball action.

The Federation for International FootGolf: FootGolf, a sport that has been popping up on golf courses nationwide, makes use of soccer skills, and has been hailed as a way to help use golf courses that are not getting the use they need. Stateside, the sport is governed by the American Footgolf League. Its calendar includes regional competitions in cities such as Provo (Utah), San Diego, Baltimore and Palm Desert (California). The National Championship will be held November 10-12 at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert. In fact, Fort Worth, Texas, was the site of the first Footgolf National Conference.

The International Union of Kettlebell Lifting: Kettlebells, a fixture in fitness facilities, are now the basis of a competitive sport on with a worldwide following; in fact, there is a schedule of events hosted by IUKL in 2017. Look for these events to be hosted in a series, in states including ColoradoSouth Carolina, Kansas, Nevada, New Jersey and California. In fact, the U.S. has the kettlebell competition market all but cornered when it comes to hosting world championships; only one out of six will be contested outside the U.S. (and that in South America).

The International Federation of Poker (IFP): Not just for casinos (or the World Series of Poker) anymore: the Federation is the governing body of sports poker, promoting poker and specifically its Match Poker variation as a skill game and a mind sport. Match Poker is a team sport incorporating regular Texas Hold’em. Cards are delivered electronically via a digital device. After a pre-determined number of hands, the team with the most points wins. All action is recorded electronically, enabling real-time automated scoring, animated replay and detailed analysis. Because the sport can be played online, it can be hosted in any destination, maning it folds in with eSports. In fact, as it attempts to move forward the image of Match Poker, IFP is working closely with Harvard University and the university's recently established Mindsport Research Network.

The International Pole Sports Federation: As we’ve seen in previous coverage, this is pole dancing, rather than pole vaulting or javelin throw. The sport has already met with the IOC, in addition to GAISF, and notes that it has been confirmed as  a signatory of the World Anti-Doping Agency Code. Pole sports includes multiple disciplines within the sport (much the same way gymnastics does) and additionally has a Paralympic version, known as Para Pole. Though the sport currently lacks an American federation, there is a Canadian Pole Sport Federation, which will present its national championships in 2018.

International Table Soccer Federation: Table soccer (it’s also known colloquially as foosball) is contested as an international sport, with players worldwide (bonus: USA is at the top of the player list), as well as official vendors. The sport even has its own app. Recent high-level tournaments were contested in Wilmington, North Carolina (at NC State); Runaway Bay, Texas (the Southern Regional); Thornton, Colorado; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The logical question is generally the following: Will these become Olympic sports? For the time being, they are not – although some sports, such as pole, have already met with the IOC regarding possible inclusion. Being granted Observer status through GAISF, according to an article in Inside The Games, is intended to allow newer sports federations to "take advantage of the GAISF network to grow and develop.” These groups can take part in the annual GAISF International Federation (IF) Forum and attend the GAISF General Assembly, but will have no voting rights. It is seen as the first step towards full GAISF membership with the body pledging to work with observers so they can meet the criteria required.

SDM will continue to cover developments in these sports, and to keep its members updated.

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