An admission to the Olympics is a huge fillip to any sport and it would be no different for pickleball whenever that momentous occasion does arrive when it becomes a part of the Olympics.
The question is why is pickleball not an Olympics sport yet and when can it be expected to become one?
The simple answer to the second question is one can never be sure but the reason why pickleball’s not a part of the Olympics movement yet is because there aren’t enough countries playing the sport.
As we had mentioned in our piece on squash not being an Olympics sport yet, for any sport to be considered admission into the Olympics, it needs to be widely practiced by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on three continents.
The number of countries in which pickleball is played at the time of writing is growing but it’s still a few away from the aforementioned mark. For instance by the end of 2021, pickleball was featured in 58 nations but the bigger question here is whether it’s as ‘widely practiced’ even in those countries for now.
The pickleball movement is catching fire and moving in the right direction as can be seen from the initiatives taken in the USA.
This includes the formation of a USA Pickleball association and the initiation of the Major League Pickleball and the APP Tour, all of which could go a long way in spreading the sport in the continent.
As of the early part of the year 2022, there were a little less than five million playing pickleball in the US alone, a number which has nearly doubled in the matter of half of a decade.
The challenge, however, is to get other countries to pick up pickleball and grow it at a rate it’s growing in the USA.
What Criteria are Needed for a Sport to be Included in the Olympics?
As mentioned above, a sport must be actively played in 75 countries but other than that, the sport rules – or laws – need to be regulated by a central, global body which isn’t run by a government.
The International Olympics Committee, or the IOC, must then look into its anti-doping measures and if the sport follows the anti-doping code mandated by the Olympics Movement Anti-Doping Code.
If the aforementioned criteria is fulfilled, the sport could have a chance but it would still be some way off. It needs to have global appeal or the organizing country must push for its inclusion – like was the case with a few of the sports for the 2020 Olympics (check the section below).
Interestingly, the IOC will then probably need to axe one of the existing sports to accommodate this new one – in this case, pickleball.
Which Sports Were Included in the 2016 & 2020 Olympics?
Of the 26 sports which were contested in the 2012 London Olympics, one sport, wrestling, was initially removed and two new sports, golf and rugby sevens, added to the list.
At the 125th IOC Session, which was held in September 2013, wrestling was reinstalled in the list of sports which were to be contested for at the 2016 Olympics.
Five more sports, karate, baseball/softball, surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding were included in the 2020 edition of these games with local interest forming the part of the main reason why they were added.
Why this is important to understand is because the 2028 edition of the Olympics are expected to be hosted in Los Angeles and if pickleball can continue to show the kind of rising interest it has so far, there is that outside chance of it getting picked too.
Why Would it Help Pickleball to be a Part of the Olympics?
At one point, pickleball was known to be a senior person’s sport, but it is slowly infiltrating the minds of younger people as well. The pandemic in 2020 brought more and more, younger people on to the pickleball courts as they looked to get some form of exercise instead of being locked in their homes.
And with time, the pandemic might have receded but the interest in pickleball continued to proliferate. What it now needs is the kind of fuel to ignite a much larger proverbial fire.
The Olympics are a pinnacle of sports and sporting events. And as a result of that, the kind of exposure that is on offer for sports and sportspersons participating at the Olympics is almost unprecedented.
For a fledgling sport like pickleball, even to be spoken of in the same breath as the Olympics could end up bringing it the kind of eyeballs which otherwise would take years, if not decades to acquire.
What about Pickleball as a Demonstration Sport at the Olympics?
Demonstration sports are, as the name suggests, sports which are played at an event like the Olympics to demonstrate it and try and promote it to the public. While medals are won at demonstration sports, they don’t count towards the end tally.
With the 2028 Olympics to be hosted at Los Angeles, pickleball might have been an ideal candidate for even a demonstration sport but the IOC suspended demonstration sports were suspended following the Barcelona Olympics of 1992.
There have been exceptions like the wushu at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which gives rise to the hope that pickleball could also be picked as an exception in that sense.
Final Words on Pickleball in the Olympics
Pickleball is not yet a part of the Olympics but given its quick growth and fast-moving interest among the younger generation as well, it might not be beyond it to join the league of extraordinary sports to have made it to the Olympics.
While pickleball wouldn’t be a part of the 2024 Olympics in Paris, a more realistic aim for the sport would be the 2028 edition which would be held in Los Angeles.