Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Rachel from Irmo, SC. Rachel Wonders, “How many countries enter the Olympics? ” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Rachel!
The Olympics represent the pinnacle of sporting achievement. The whole world waits anxiously for the competitions to roll around every four years. Surely all 196 countries participate, right? Or are there only spots for the top 100 countries to compete? Maybe the host country gets to decide who gets to take part?
Even though the host country has many important duties, choosing which countries can compete is not one of them. The Olympics aren't limited to only 100 countries, either. In fact, Brazil welcomed over 10,500 athletes from 206 countries during the summer of 2016!
Wait just a second…206 countries? How is that possible? Aren't there only 196 countries in the world? Although most sources put the number of countries in the world at 196, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has a slightly-relaxed definition of what a country is for purposes of competing in the Olympics.
For a "country" to participate in the Olympics, it must have a National Olympic Committee (NOC) approved by the IOC. Currently, there are 206 NOCs, although the Kuwait Olympic Committee was suspended in October 2015.
The IOC rules regarding NOCs were changed in 1996. Today, a new NOC can only be recognized by the IOC if it's from a nation recognized as a country by the United Nations. Prior to 1996, however, the IOC recognized NOCs from several dependent territories of other nations. That explains why there are more than 196 "countries" participating in the Olympics.
For example, 204 countries participated in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England. That number consisted of 193 of the 196 independent countries (all but South Sudan, Kosovo, and Vatican City). The other 11 "countries" consisted of territories of other nations, including American Samoa, Aruba, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Guam, Hong Kong, Palestine, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
If you're curious about participation in the Winter Olympics, there are far fewer countries and athletes that take part in the Winter Games. This is because many countries around the world do not get the kind of weather that would allow them to compete in traditional winter sports. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there were approximately 2,800 athletes from 88 countries.
The Olympics have come a long way since the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 1896. According to the IOC, 14 countries participated in those first modern games. It has come a long way to the summer of 2016 with 206 countries competing in Brazil!