Jousting, Pole Dancing And Bowls: Could These Be The Next Sports Included At The Olympic Games?
The Rio Olympics will see 306 events contested across a mixture of 28 different sports. Of these, two - rugby sevens and golf - will be included in the Games having not been contested at London 2012. In order to join the competition, sports must be selected and voted into it by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Considering that the 1896 Summer Olympics - the first of the modern era - saw only 43 events contested across nine sports, the last 120 years have seen a huge growth of events, sports and athletes. Yet despite this, there remains terse competition for sports wishing to be accredited by the IOC.
In 2020, skateboarding, surfing, karate, sports climbing and baseball/softball will be among five new sports added to the Games, after being recommended for inclusion.
But what of the sports still left out? It's difficult not to wonder why, for instance, taekwondo and judo have been afforded the prestige of Olympic status, but karate has previously not been included?
Team GB are in Rio but what sports could be contested in the future? Credit: PA Images
The Olympic committee lists the following criteria, as well as the need to be played across the world, in order to be added to the games: added value; youth appeal; attractiveness for TV, media and the general public; gender equality; minimum impact on the number of events and/or quotas, infrastructure and operational costs and complexity.
Cricket and darts have previously lobbied for inclusion, but are not actively looking to pursue Olympic participation further. But with extreme sports increasingly being allowed into the fold, there are now some left-field choices vying to be part of the Games. One of these is pole sports, which evolved from pole dancing and is now viewed as a sport in its own right.
Katie Coates is the president of the International Pole Sports Federation and has been involved in the sport for over 20 years and has set up national federations across the globe to push the sports case.
She told theLADbible: "Skateboard and parkour - we're all in the same situation because we're new sports that want to be recognised. People think BMX should be in the Olympics, and in 2020 skateboarding will be in the Olympic Games.
"Sport is going through a complete overhaul at the moment and is trying to attract the younger generation. Say what you will about our sport, it's entertaining and it's going to get bums on seats."
Pole sports evolved from origins in erotic dancing. Image credit: International Pole Sports Federation
Katie didn't feel that the origins of the sport in erotic dancing should hold it back from inclusion in the competition. She added: "With gymnastics, the word 'gymnast' comes from the Greek word which means 'to dance naked'. So gymnastics had a very similar start to us but of course their beginning is thousands of years ago.
"It's not pole dancing - there's a big difference between pole dancing, pole sport, and pole fitness. Pole fitness is what you do in the gym. Pole dancing is what people tend to do in a sexier way, and then pole sport is the sport version. So, it's very much based on sporting rules and regulations.
"Look at beach volleyball - there's a reason that there is never a ticket left unsold for that. We're entertaining, exciting, fun and we're edgy. It's key to us that we're going to fill a gap when other older sports are dying out and not getting younger viewers."
It's hard to deny the athleticism the sport requires and Katie described it as a 'true sport'.
"It has every single element of an elite athlete," she said. "You have to be strong, you have to be flexible, you have to have stamina, you have to be intelligent in the way you bring it together in order to get maximum points. You have to be a show person and be confident. You have to have all of these amazing elements in order to become a champion."
Pole sports are competed in countries across the globe. Image credit: International Pole Sports Federation
Another sport that's been lobbying for inclusion is the medieval martial game of jousting. One of the oldest sports in the world, originating in the 10th century, it could sit alongside other equestrian sports such as dressage, eventing and jumping if it was added.
English Heritage, which organises jousting events around the county, has recently started a petition for its inclusion, claiming that a jouster needs the same level of athleticism and agility, skill and strength, as many of the would-be Olympic medal winners in Rio this summer.
As Lucy Hutchings, the head of projects at English Heritage, has explained, they think the spectacle of the sport means it is worthy of inclusion.
"Jousting is incredibly exciting to watch and we have thousands of visitors who flock to our events to watch our tournaments. We therefore feel quite strongly that it's a really credible sport that should be included in the Olympics because of the history of the sport as well as the spectacle," she said.
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Video Credit: English Heritage
"We have jousters of international repute at our competitions. They come from all over the world to joust at our tournaments - and there are tournaments that happen globally from Brazil to Russia and anywhere else you can think of."
The idea of charging on horseback at full-tilt, with the sole aim of lancing an opponent, seems like it could be dangerous for both the horse and the rider, but Lucy assures me it isn't.
"The idea is to hit your opponent in various locations to highlight your skill," said Lucy. "It's not about trying to hurt your opponent. It's about showing your skill with the lance and how under control your horse is. Obviously you have highly-trained riders and horses that participate and you have the best personal protection equipment you could have in the form of 20-kilogram armour, which helps a great deal."
But does that not just take the fun out of it?
"I've watched a lot of jousting and I certainly don't think that it takes the fun out of it," she replied. "They're going into each other at a combined speed that can be up to 40mph. When you hear that crack when the lance hits and the spectacle is there, when you see the broken wood smash and break apart, it's a thrill to watch."
Jousting has been going for hundreds of years. Image credit: English Heritage
With jousting tournaments having been going for so long, it seems a bit odd that the sport is only pressing to be considered for the Olympics now. But, as Lucy explains, there has been a relatively slow progression for equestrian sports to be included in the Games.
"Equestrian sports in general made an appearance quite late in the day when you talk about the history of the Olympics overall," she said. "I think now people understand the skill behind them.
"In the United States they do something called 'wind jousting' and that's been a sport there for something like 60 years, so there are variations on jousting that might convince people they're more suitable for a modern audience.
If the sport achieved Olympic status, competitors could wear more modern armour. Image credit: English Heritage
"But when you look at other sports, like archery and fencing, they all have their root in an earlier period. But they are still considered suitable for a modern audience. I'd say that just because they're wearing what looks like medieval armour doesn't make it a medieval sport."
But it's not just modern sports and heritage sports that want to be included. The Great British park pastime of lawn bowls also thinks it has what it takes to be included, pointing to the fact it is already part of the Commonwealth Games as a core sport.
Making the case for its inclusion, John Bell, President of World Bowls and former England international, told us: "When you look at the sport itself, it's representative and it's accessible for everybody. Everybody of every age plays bowls and it has a really good participation rate around the world. It's not an obscure sport."
Like many sports that want to be included, being part of the Olympics would not just mean prestige for bowls, but more funding to enable the sport to grow internationally.
Bowls competitors are up for the challenge of the Olympics. Image credit: Facebook
"From our point of view, if we were recognised as an Olympic sport then it means that a lot of countries that are just beginning to play bowls would be able to access government funding and support - so it can become a bigger sport," John said.
"When you look at some of the other sports that have been accepted, I think we have a good chance - and we deserve to be in there. There are more than 50 countries playing bowls and there are a lot of countries who are very good at it."
The game is regularly played by around half a million people worldwide and it even has its own magazine, Bowls International. But is it really athletic enough to be called a true sport? Could a gold medal in bowls ever be worth the same as, the 100 metres or a marathon?
It's up to the IOC to consider which sports should be included in the future. Image credit: Facebook
"It doesn't involve as much physical exercise as athletics and team sports but it's skilful. It does still require a very high level of fitness and it is an athletic sport," John explained.
"I think you'll find that most of the teams going round all the top events are on fitness programmes and they're considered athletes."
At the moment, the Olympic system means there's a two-tier system between sports, with those that are part of the Games afforded funding and prestige that other sports aren't.
One thing that comes across when speaking to everyone, whatever sport they're advocating, is the passion about whichever event they choose to compete in. Maybe in the 21st century it's time we opened the Olympics up to a little more variety.
What do you reckon? Which sports do you think are worthy of inclusion?
Words by James Dawson