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Pinnacle Of Competition: Is Pickleball An Olympic Sport?

by Pickleball Superstore March 06, 2024

A pickleball player holds the ball to their paddle.

The Olympic Games are a truly international sports platform. They’re an opportunity for the world’s top athletes to show their skills, experience, and expertise. The thrill of competition at the very highest level is attractive to athletes, national governments, and spectators alike.

Unfortunately, pickleball is not yet among the officially contested sports in the Olympics. That’s despite having nearly 9 million players in the US alone in 2023, as USA Pickleball reports. The sport’s rapid and remarkable growth has not yet translated to a spot in Olympic competition.

For those who closely follow the Olympics, that fact may not be too surprising. Let’s take a closer look.

Pickleball Competition in the Olympics: Why the Wait?

The Olympics is a massive, expensive, complex, and extremely profitable event.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the organization responsible for organizing and executing each edition of the games. It selects host cities, which is an incredibly complex process by itself. The IOC also governs 206 National Olympic Committees, as the organization explains.

To put it simply, an awful lot of work goes into each Olympic games. The same is true of the IOC’s process for selecting new sports, disciplines, and events for each edition of the games. Encyclopedia Brittanica explains the Olympic sport selection process in great detail. Some key points to note include:

  • A sport must have an international governing body to be considered for admission.
  • That sport needs to enforce the IOC’s anti-doping code.
  • Men’s sports need to be actively and widely played in a minimum of 75 countries across four continents. Women’s sports must be actively and widely played in at least 40 countries and on three continents.
  • Sports need to contribute to the appeal of the Olympics. Costs, broad appeal to viewers, and other factors are also considered.
  • The IOC currently only allows new sports when other sports are removed from competition.

In other words, it’s not easy for any sport to become an Olympic sport.

There doesn’t appear to be any kind of specific or unique bias against pickleball by the IOC. Instead, the bureaucracy behind the process of adding any sport makes for slow changes.

So does the infrequent nature of the Olympics. There is only one opportunity every four years for a sport to be included, whether as a full Olympic event or as a demonstration.

The IOC recently added an optional sports category for the Summer Olympics as well, beginning with the 2020 Tokyo games.

These sports are contested one time rather than on a continuing basis. However, top athletes are awarded medals, the same as participants in permanent sports. Optional sports represent another opportunity for pickleball to make its first appearance on the Olympic stage.

Two smiling players wait for their opponents to serve on a pickleball court.

Could Pickleball Become an Olympic Sport?

Thanks to the growing popularity of pickleball, there is a chance that the sport could eventually be contested in the Olympics.

An international governing body, the International Pickleball Federation (IPF), names Olympic recognition as a key goal. The organization had 78 member countries in February 2024, meeting that part of the Olympic requirements.

Steve Sidwell previously led the effort by the IPF’s predecessor to gain Olympic recognition. In 2022, he told Palm Springs newspaper The Desert Sun that pickleball in the 2028 Summer Olympics is a possibility, although by no means a guarantee.

It’s not possible to predict whether or when pickleball will make an appearance on the biggest stage athletics has to offer. However, there are signs that pickleball is gaining steam in its efforts to be recognized as an Olympic sport.

China’s Growing Influence on Pickleball

China has recently signalled an interest in Pickleball. So has India. That may have an influence on the sport’s adoption in the Olympics in the future.

Seymour Rifkind is a pickleball ambassador who organized a late 2023 exhibition of the game in China. Rifkind told Front Office Sports that he had talked about the sport’s growth with Chinese sports officials. According to Rifkind, those officials plan to have 10,000 courts and 100 million players in the country in five years.

China already has a major presence in other Olympic racket and paddle sports, including tennis, table tennis and badminton. The country’s sports administration may have its eye on adding pickleball to its Olympic repertoire.

Although everything is far from official at this point, the 2032 Summer Olympics in Brisbane, Australia may be a target for Chinese officials who want to include pickleball on the list of Olympic events.

Is Pickleball a Special Olympics Sport?

The Special Olympics World Games does not list Pickleball among its official sports as of early 2024.

However, there have been several pickleball events on the local, national, and regional-international levels in recent years. For example, the Special Olympics North America Tennis and Pickleball Championship was held in October 2023.

The Special Olympics is not as bureaucratic or rigid as the IOC. That flexibility, combined with the popularity of pickleball in general, has quickly raised the profile of the sport in the Special Olympics.

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