To nobody’s surprise, baseball and softball got the coup de grace and will not be appearing in Paris during the 2024 Games. Neither will karate, for that matter.
And to the surprise of many stateside, breakdancing is in.
Pundit Alan Hubbard summarized it best in Inside The Games when he noted, “Now that breakdancing is strongly tipped to be launched as an Olympic sport at Paris 2024, squeezing out more orthodox and arguably more worthy pursuits such as painstakingly long-trying squash, no sporting stone is likely to be left unturned by an International Olympic Committee hell-bent on not showing its age.”
(Side note: Oh, ouch.) But with the announcement that the four showcase sports in the 2024 Games would be sport climbing, surfing, skateboarding and breaking, there was rejoicing in those international governing bodies – but plenty of complaints from others. The four sports chosen were, in fact, selected because of their appeal to youth, something the IOC has repeatedly emphasized. (Breakdancing, by the way, has enormous appeal in other countries; it's just as much of a U.S. phenom.)
Some sports governing bodies were taken aback by the decision to have a late February announcement, and had been counting on several more weeks of campaigning before an announcement could be made in March.
Still, the news left a lot of sports sitting it out. Here are the ones who won’t be there – and likely, why not.
Baseball and Softball: As predicted, the sports were left off the Paris dance card because of several factors. The first is a lack of appeal to the French. Neither sport is strongly followed there, and French national teams have never played in any Olympics where they were featured.
Additionally, Paris lacks baseball and softball venues and having committed to an economically responsible and sustainable Olympics, its organizers have expressed repeatedly that they have no intention of building facilities for a one-time use (particularly those that would need to be demolished later at an additional cost so that the land could be repurposed).
The final deciding factor is the number of athletes needed to play: both are team sports with large rosters and Paris organizers want to keep costs down; hence, the need to avoid pursuits that would bring in larger numbers of athletes. Paris, in fact, committed to a cap of 10,500 athletes for its Games, and incorporating large team sports was never in the plan.
The decision has not stopped the World Baseball Softball Confederation from hosting a meeting with IOC president Thomas Bach about the rejection, and discussing whether anything can be done about it. Note: Riccardo Fraccari, president of WBSC is expected to lose this appeal and will likely turn his attention to Los Angeles 2028, where baseball and softball are expected to be included with the final of the baseball held at Dodger Stadium.
Karate: Like baseball and softball, karate will be featured in Tokyo in 2020 – but not in Paris. Again, there is the lack of national appeal. France is a member of the World Karate Federation but the sport lacks the edgy note that climbing, surfing, skateboarding and breakdancing also offer.
As with baseball and softball, the WKF isn’t giving up easily either, and has launched a social media campaign to try to keep interest in the sport front and center.
Inside The Games notes, “The campaign aims to "showcase the unity of the sport and requests the inclusion of the discipline in the list of additional sports to be added to the program of the Olympic Games Paris 2024. Fans are encouraged to get involved by using the hashtag and spreading the message "KARATE: Olympic sport.” A main thrust of the campaign is the #TsukiForKarate2024 challenge where fans are asked to perform their best "tsuki" punch in defense of karate's Olympic place. Videos and pictures of this are encouraged to be posted on social media with both Paris 2024 and the WKF tagged in.”
Then there were the other sports that were unsuccessfully campaigning for inclusion in the 2024 Games:
Squash: Always a bridesmaid and never a bride? Squash has been there, done that. Squash is the bridesmaid in the bubble-gum-pink taffeta dress and the dyed-to-match shoes, clutching the silk bouquet and grinding her teeth while listening to Karen Carpenter warbling “White Lace and Promises” during the first dance. And it’s her fourth time as an also-ran.
Squash has been rejected for London 2012, Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 and now, Paris 2024. And while World Squash Federation Jacques Fontaine made it a point not to denigrate other sports leading up to the Games announcement, the gloves came off after that.
In a joint statement, the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and the WSF claimed the proposed list of four sports "leads to a belief that Paris 2024 and the IOC favored sports already in the Olympic program, leaving practically no opportunity for other sports.”
One of the world’s top players, Egypt’s Ali Farag, tweeting from the World Championships in Chicago, stated, "go breakdance while we play a one-million-dollar tournament of the best sport in the world."
As its drawbacks, squash does not have that extreme vibe that the IOC feels attracts youthful audiences, and it is not as telegenic as many other sports; however, many sports remain on the Olympic program despite this latter shortcoming.
Snooker: Snooker, similar to pool, launched its bid in late 2018, but also failed to make the final cut. (It was also left off the Tokyo 2020 program). Ahead of the decision, an online petition for inclusion had garnered around 20,000 signatures.
While the bid committee was disappointed, it has not given up hope for inclusion in future Games. “We are already studying ways to take part in the 2024 events in a different way, promoting the sport to the games audience during off-the-stage events, with all of our partners.”
It may be that the sport did not have the youthful contingent the IOC wanted; otherwise, many of the factors were already in place: it has an easy-to-follow format and would not require new facilities or large teams.
Flying Disc: This one might have flown under the radar for a number of people – something that might have been part of the problem. Flying disc, which is governed by the World Flying Disc Federation, is contested in multiple formats and disciplines, including Ultimate, Accuracy, Freestyle, Disc Golf, Discathon, Distance, Double Disc Court (DDC) and Self-Caught Flight (SCF).
"It appears that the organizers have decided against adding any team sports to this edition of the Games due to logistical constraints and the selection process followed a logic that at the end left no place for the WFDF proposal,” WFDF President Robert Rauch said.
WFDF is concentrating its energies on a bid for inclusion as a showcase sport at Los Angeles 2028.
Thanks to college club-level participation in Ultimate and growing disc golf nationwide, there is an awareness of disc sports in the U.S., so it may well have a chance in nine years’ time.
Bowling: Bowling also failed to make the cut. Bowling’s organizers blamed themselves for a campaign that got started too late; however, there are other factors at work. A lack of already existing venues is one; the inaugural World Bowling Junior Championships, the finals of which take place March 23, will be held on specially installed lanes inside a Judo arena in Paris.
Another is bowling’s image; it is a very traditional sport – and while fun and easy to pick up (and easy to watch and understand), it lacks the ‘extreme’ note Paris organizers seemed to be looking for.
Paris 2024 organizers have been quoted as saying, “By suggesting to the IOC breaking (breakdancing), sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing be included in its sports program, alongside the 28 Olympic federations already part of the Games, Paris 2024 has emphasized its goal of creating spectacular, urban and sustainable Games. These will not only provide a fitting showcase for athletic performance but also engage young people and the wider public through lifestyle sports.”
With more time to prepare, and more of a traditional American crowd, bowling is expected to mount its campaign again (and likely soon) for Los Angeles 2028.
Chess: Chess pushed as hard as it could for inclusion but in the end, was overruled. As with many sports, it likely lacked the visual excitement – despite the proposal of shortened formats of the games, and despite the fact that its youth population is growing.
Darts: Many have thought of it as a bar game but the competitive version of darts is highly addictive, TV-friendly and has fans among celebrities of all stripes. It failed to gain recognition, however, and will have to wait for another cycle, at least.
Boules: Another sport that made the application but not the cut, boules (similar to bocce) has a long history; however, lacking the youthful vibe the IOC wants, it failed in its quest. While organizers would likely want to try again as soon as possible, Los Angeles may not be the right forum for it.
These were just a few of the contenders. And to be fair, the Olympics have almost always attracted proposals from any number of sports. For example, for 2020, the proposals came from baseball and softball, karate, squash, bowling, snooker, sport climbing, surfing, wushu, roller sports, air sports, American football, bowls, bridge, chess, dance sport, 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. Following review, this list was reduced to a shortlist of eight sports: baseball and softball, bowling, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, surfing and wushu. The final five that were chosen as the showcase sports are baseball/softball, karate, sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding (as the one discipline of roller sports).
Without a doubt, all sports have strong lobbies and all have their fans. There are also plenty of pundits willing to evaluate the odds; one particularly interesting analysis is found here.
The Olympic torch in Los Angeles may be far from lit, but the fire is already burning in the world of those sports that aren’t included in the Paris program. And this time, enthusiasts and officials are hoping, they won’t be the ones getting burned.