The Tokyo Olympics are safely behind us and that means the biggest competition in the U.S. is at hand. It’s not taking place on a field or court; in fact, it’s not an athletic competition at all. It’s playing out in board rooms, on social media and in conventions and meeting rooms everywhere. It’s the lobby to be included among the showcase sports being presented in Los Angeles in 2028 – and it’s already heating up.
Under the International Olympic Committee's Agenda 2020 reforms, host cities can put forward potential additional sports to be added to the program for the Games. These sports are subject to change, as each hosting city may want to showcase its own particular sports.
For Tokyo, for example, baseball and softball (one lobby), karate, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing were added to the program. Paris 2024 opted to ditch baseball and softball (they are not mainstream there) and retain sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing and also added breakdancing. In fact, if you watched the closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Games and the handoff to Paris, you saw some breakdance athletes.
Los Angeles 2028 will be only the third Summer Games to be able to showcase sports. The frontline hopefuls for placement in 2028 are baseball and softball – which few are disputing will get in. Others who are expected to be at the table are as follows:
Lacrosse and Cheer– both of whom have North American pedigrees and both of whom were recently made full members of the IOC. Lacrosse is already included in the World Games, and USA Cheer has a national team that competes in ICU events. Expect a full-court press from both.
Skateboarding– the sport has its origins in California and came to prominence as “sidewalk surfing.” And after two consecutive appearances in the Games, it will have developed some serious momentum – as well as some strong national teams.
Surfing– The Polynesians brought surfing to Hawaii and from there, it traveled to California, and exploded into the mainstream, thanks to the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and others. Another sport that will have enjoyed two straight Games appearances, surfing will certainly be trying for a third.
Sport Climbing– Two Games in, climbing isn’t going to surrender its spot without a fight. While still considered a niche sport, the advent of climbing walls in gyms and college rec centers has made it more popular, while state and national parks also draw climbers, many of whom belong to clubs.
So who else can we expect to see campaigning for inclusion in Los Angeles 2028?
Karate: Like baseball and softball, karate was shut out of 2024 – but unlike baseball and softball, its inclusion in 2028 is far from certain. However, the WKF isn’t giving up easily either, and has launched a campaign to try to keep interest in the sport front and center.
Then there were the other sports that were unsuccessfully campaigning for inclusion in the 2024 Games and whose international governing bodies will work to secure placement in 2028:
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 her silk bouquet and grinding her teeth while listening to Karen Carpenter warbling “White Lace and Promises” while the bride and groom circle the dance floor. And 2024 was her fourth time as an also-ran, having been rejected for London 2012, Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 and 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."
According to Wikipedia, squash has been featured regularly in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games since 1998 and at the Pan American Games since 1995. Additionally, Squash was accepted as a demonstration sport for the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics
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 about Paris, an online petition for inclusion 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 flew (heh) under the radar – 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 seven years’ time.
Bowling: Bowling also failed to make the cut for Paris. 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. 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 the IOC 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 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 even though 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 as it lacks recognition in the U.S.
Teqball: A new sport that looks like a hybrid of soccer, table tennis and volleyball, teqball has stated its intention of campaigning for inclusion in the L.A. Games.
Cricket has announced it will campaign for inclusion in LA28; however, its chances may not be as strong, given the fact that the U.S. has never qualified for a cricket World Cup.
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.
In fact, only seven IOC-recognized sports did not apply for 2020 inclusion: climbing and mountaineering, motorcycling, motor racing, cricket, basque pelota, lifesaving and powerboating.
Following review, the enormous list of applicants was reduced to eight sports: baseball and softball, bowling, karate, roller sports (which morphed into skateboarding), sport climbing, squash, surfing and wushu. In the final analysis, squash, wushu and bowling failed to make the cut.
The IOC actually recognizes an enormous number of sports federations; however, acceptance by the IOC in no way guarantees a sport placement in the Olympics. (If it did, the Olympics would be much longer, and would include sports like bridge and underwater shooting).
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.
How Many New Sports Will be Allowed?
This is a moving target; whereas in Tokyo, five new sports were showcased; in Paris, only four will be. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a stated aim of limiting the number of athletes at the Summer Games to approximately 10,500. Team sports are more challenging to add, as they bring, obviously, more athletes.
So What’s the Timeline? When Do We Find Out?
According to Inside The Games, the IOC intends to decide upon sports to be showcased in LA28 at its Session held to coincide with the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Of course, even that is up for debate.According to the LA2028 site, in 2024, the IOC will consider LA28’s proposal for any new Olympic sports to be included in the 2028 Games. The International Paralympic Committee will confirm the 2028 Paralympic sport program by 2023.
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 (as well as those that want to maintain their place in the Games). And everyone is hoping they won’t be the ones getting burned.