Channel surfing during the Olympics is a sure fire way to discover a range of sports you never knew existed.
But if you’re one of the (growing numbers) of pickleball fanatics, you might be asking yourself: why pickleball isn’t an Olympic sport?
Pickleball might be growing in global popularity, but it isn’t an Olympic sport. At least, not yet.
But for pickleball’s leading governing body, the Olympics are more than just a distant dream. They’re hoping to make a pickleball Olympic gold medal a reality in just a few years!
In this guide, we’ll take a look at why pickleball isn’t an Olympic sport, how it can find a place in future Olympics, and the obstacles that might stand in the way.
Why Isn’t Pickleball An Olympic Sport?
Pickleball may have only recently exploded in popularity, but this is actually a game with a pretty long history.
The first game of pickleball was played all the way back in 1965, just one year after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were the first Olympics to have partial color telecasts.
So, pickleball has had plenty of time to reach the Olympics!
But pickleball has undergone a fairly slow growth in popularity, up until recent years.
There’s currently an estimated 4.8 million pickleball players in the U.S. alone, but that number increased heavily in recent years.
Up until now, pickleball didn’t have the following for an Olympic consideration.
Still, with a massive and growing user base, and pickleball courts now open in every American state and every Canadian province, you might wonder why pickleball still hasn’t made it into the Olympics.
The short answer is that the Olympics don’t let many new sports in, and finding a place in the Olympics is highly contested.
Pickleball doesn’t have the global appeal of an Olympic sport…yet.
Let’s look at this in slightly more detail.
Pickleball And Olympic Requirements
They don’t let just any sport into the Olympics. (Although they do let a very wide variety in, as anyone who has viewed modern pentathlon can attest!)
A sport has to be proposed, reflected on, and eventually voted into the games.
There used to be very strict requirements about how a sport made its way to the Olympics, but the IOC has largely abandoned any set criteria.
The only necessary requirement is the sport must be governed by a recognized IFs (International Sports Federation).
These governing bodies are responsible for legitimizing the sport, and maintaining integrity on an international level.
The good news is, pickleball has one of these. Known as the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP), it was established in 2012 to develop the sport worldwide.
With an IFs established, the next step is for pickleball to petition its way into the Olympics — and this is not an easy task!
The Olympics are already packed full of sports, and before adding new ones, the IOC would like to clear away some old ones. Pickleball doesn’t just need to prove it has a place at the Olympics.
It needs to prove it deserves this place over other sports with an established Olympic history.
In order to be considered for an Olympic spot, a sport must have worldwide popularity among both men and women.
Although it isn’t a strict rule, the IFs of the sport should have at least 75 member countries, with members coming from across the globe.
Pickleball isn’t quite there yet. It will take a few more years before pickleball has the global audience required to make a legitimate shot at the Olympics.
It’s worth noting that tennis, table tennis, and badminton are all included in the current Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, squash has repeatedly tried to enter the Olympics, only to be denied on every application (it does feature in other multiport competitions).
Will Pickleball Ever Be An Olympic Sport?
Pickleball might not be an Olympic sport, but that is the eventual aim of the International Federation of Pickleball!
With player numbers racking up, and men and women worldwide joining the craze, pickleball at the Olympics might not be such a distant dream.
It doesn’t have the member requirements just yet, but pickleball does have a few things working in its Olympic favor.
Primarily, pickleball is relatively inexpensive to set up.
Funding and facilities are key players in choosing Olympic disciplines, and have caused sports such as baseball and softball to lose their spots.
Pickleball can be played on badminton courts, which are already standard at any summer Olympic Games.
Further, pickleball is played by both men and women, and gender equality is becoming a primary focus of the IOC.
Some longstanding sports might potentially lose their Olympic spot due to a lack of opportunities for both men and women.
Pickleball already has a competitive female following, which puts it in a good place for Olympic recognition.
When Might Pickleball Join The Olympics?
If pickleball does join the Olympics, it won’t be for quite a few more years. Paris 2024 has already voted on the sports included in their games, and it doesn’t include pickleball.
However, there is hope for 2028, when the Olympic Games will be held in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles already has an active pickleball community, plus courts and venues set up across the city.
If pickleball did take place in Los Angeles 2028, it would be a relatively easy sporting event to arrange.
And if pickleball continues its incredible growth, there’s a good chance it will have achieved the international recognition needed to become an Olympic sport by 2028!
So, although pickleball isn’t currently an Olympic sport, a pickleball Olympic gold medalist might happen in the next decade!
Could Pickleball Be An Olympic Demonstration Sport?
Even if pickleball doesn’t make it into the main Olympic program, there is another way in: demonstration sports.
Olympic demonstration sports are sports played during the Olympics that aren’t considered a permanent part of the main competition.
Nowadays, these demonstration sports are included in the main medal count. Demonstration sports only officially earn their place at one Olympics, and won’t necessarily be contested at the next one.
These demonstration events help promote a sport on an international stage.
Demonstration sports can be proposed by the host country organizing committee, often to exhibit a sport that’s particularly popular in that country (for example, a karate competition was held at Tokyo 2020).
Even if it isn’t considered on the Olympic program, pickleball could potentially host a competition concurrent to the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.
For example, a wushu competition was held parallel to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Current Pickleball Tournaments
Just because it’s not on the Olympic schedule, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy competitive pickleball!
The Bainbridge Cup is the foremost pickleball international tournament. Held since 2017, the Bainbridge Cup is named after Bainbridge Island, where pickleball was invented.
Consisting of men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles disciplines, competitors are divided by age and skill level.
The international success of the Bainbridge Cup shows that pickleball is popular on a global level, and has competitive potential.
If the Bainbridge Cup can continue at this level, then it will help demonstrate to the IOC that pickleball deserves a place at the Olympics.
Pickleball doesn’t have the international following and established competitive history necessary to be an Olympic sport just yet.
However, as pickleball grows in popularity, an Olympic spot becomes more likely. So, it might be time to start practicing your swing for a gold medal!