Ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) revised the framework and format of the Games to enable the introduction of more sporting events from next summer. Rio 2016 was the last Olympic Games to be capped at just 28 sports from a list exclusively set by the IOC. With the IOC determined to increase the Games’ appeal with the younger generation and provide a roster of events popular with both men and women, a shift in approach has been broadly welcomed.
A host of new sports are expected to be incorporated into the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. Rather than the IOC solely making the decision of which sports to include, it’s been agreed that the host city would also have a say in which sports should be added. For Tokyo 2020, the Japanese recommended the inclusion of some sports that are considerably popular among Japanese spectators, notably baseball, softball and karate – all of which were given the green light by the IOC.
With that in mind, we thought now would be a good time to consider which "niche" sports could be considered contenders to become an Olympic event, based on their worldwide popularity, venue requirements and so forth. Here’s five that we’ve come up with:
Last but by no means least, the French are excited about the prospect of boules becoming an Olympic sport for the 2024 Paris Games. Given that the IOC has given future host cities an input on which new games should be recognized, it is becoming increasingly likely that boules will be put forward as an option. The input of the host nation is not only to provide up-and-coming niche sports, but to also suggest sports that are central to the host nation’s culture. Its inclusion in the Mediterranean Games will surely aid its cause.
Three different variations of France’s much-loved boules were included at the Mediterranean Games, with petanque, raffa-volo and lyonnaise all hosted. Claude Azema, head of the World Confederation of Ball Sports, said they had been "presenting their case" at IOC events and he believes that it is "certain to attract good crowds" at Paris 2024, if successful.
Paris 2024 event organizers have even suggested they would be prepared to include break dancing as an Olympic event. It’s very much a case of watch this space, but there is genuine hope for all five of the aforementioned sports that they could yet have an Olympic future.
Many of the leading darts professionals have called for darts to be included as an Olympic sport for several years. It appears the IOC is finally taking heed of those calls. The huge success of the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) and even the increasingly popular World Cup of Darts has helped to nurture a global base of darts professionals and an equally global audience. Darts has long held an unfortunate reputation for being a non-physical sport. However, the professionalism and training regimes of today’s darts professionals mean that this image could not be further from the truth.
Yes, darts isn’t as athletic as the likes of judo, swimming or the decathlon, but isn’t it just as athletic as the likes of archery and shooting? More importantly, darts is the epitome of what the Olympics is about. While some Olympic sports have global superstars, there are plenty of others that are semi-professional and even have day jobs in between each summer Games. The demand is certainly there, it’s just a matter of time for the IOC to make the right call.
Futsal is starting to show signs that it is being recognized as an Olympic sport. The 2018 Summer Youth Olympics allowed futsal to be played for the first time, with ten boys and girls teams competing in the inaugural Olympic event. It’s not yet been competed in at a senior Olympic Games, which will no doubt be a landmark moment for the International Futsal Federation. Futsal has long held its own World Cup, governed by FIFA. The Futsal World Cup was first staged in 1989, so it’s been recognized on the world stage for 30 years now.
You only have to look at the success of futsal at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires to see just how much excitement the sport could bring to the senior Olympic Games. With just over seven goals per game on average in the boys’ tournament and almost nine-and-a-half goals per game in the girls' tournament, it’s clear that the Olympic crowds could easily be engrossed by the end-to-end basketball-style action. Futsal is also one of the world’s fastest-growing sports. In the UK, plans are afoot to get 200,000 registered futsal players by 2020, while in Brazil there are already 30 million futsal participants.
2. Beach soccer
Prior to the Rio 2016 Olympics, the event’s president, Carlos Nuzman, said that he was excited about the prospect of beach soccer becoming part of the Olympic program in Brazil. However, the IOC did not eventually approve the addition, which was a disappointment to Brazilian soccer fans and those who love the "beautiful game" worldwide. It seems a strange decision considering the Olympic Council of Asia had already permitted beach soccer as a showcase event as part of its Asian Beach Games.
Simon Clegg, the former chief executive of the British Olympic Association, has also thrown his weight behind beach soccer becoming an Olympic sport in recent years. He said that it would be a "fantastic sport" and help to "accelerate the further development" of the game. The speed and dynamism of beach soccer surely put it on a par with beach volleyball, which has been an approved Olympic sport since 1996.
The eSports industry has expanded in recent years beyond all recognition into a global phenomenon. Newzoo believes the worldwide eSports industry will be worth more than $1 billion this year, underlining its future potential in terms of viewers. Despite growing calls for eSports’ inclusion as an Olympic sport, the IOC has responded by saying that further studies were required to determine its legitimacy. The body’s president, Thomas Bach, said in September 2018 that some games "are contradictory to the Olympic values".
Nevertheless, organizers of the Paris 2024 Olympics have intimated that they have plans to introduce eSports as a "demonstration sport" at the Games. Although the International eSports Federation (IeSF) accepts that it’s unlikely to be accepted as an official discipline in time for 2024, its inclusion as a demonstration title could cement the concept of eSports in the psyche of Olympics fans worldwide. eSports is already set to become a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games based on certain conditions - where the IOC will no doubt be taking a watching brief.